That Amanda Craig is a former journalist and critic of children’s books comes through interestingly in her ninth and newest novel The Golden Rule (Hachette India, Rs 899), which was published in the UK last year and was longlisted for the 2021 Women’s Prize for Fiction.
The book has both imaginative elements and political commentary on subjects ranging from Brexit to class inequality and gender discrimination. A combination of a thriller and romance, it also makes a statement on how socio-economic conditions affect electoral outcomes and why feminism is still needed, even in the so-called developed world.
The novel begins with protagonist Hannah facing challenges on all fronts. Brought up in the seaside English county of Cornwall by a penurious single mother, she manages to make her way to London to study at university.
But while it appears her life is on an upward swing – she gets a job at an advertising agency and manages to marry a rich young man with royal connections – her glamorous job turns out to be boobytrapped with daily sexual harassment and her handsome husband soon turns abusive and violent.
Hannah quits her job, her marriage sours, the husband has an affair, the couple divorces, and Hannah is left jobless and poor, now also struggling to raise a little girl. She is forced to work menial jobs to eke out a living in the prohibitively expensive British capital as her ex-husband withholds her rent as a sort of cruel revenge.
On her way to her hometown for her mother’s funeral, Hannah happens to meet a mysterious woman on the train and — in a storyline the author acknowledges as inspired by Patricia Highsmith’s 1950 novel Strangers on a Train — the two decide to murder each other’s horrible husbands.
With the plot now decidedly falling in the realm of suspenseful thrillers, the author takes more literary liberties, such as introducing a Beauty and the Beast type subplot, and other exciting, if farfetched, coincidences and twists in the tale.
Along the way, the author suggests reasons for rural areas such as Cornwall voting to ‘Leave’ and then being disappointed at the economic fallout of Brexit. The abject picture she paints of life in the Cornish region, with lack of employment opportunities and little hope for the prosperity of cities like London to trickle down, could be true of many global economies.
It explains, to an extent, the rise of far-right movements worldwide in the wake of wide income disparity and social inequity as the rich become richer and the poor stay stuck in the shackles of poverty.
The book also touches on other modern-day issues — such as partner violence, religion-sanctioned subjugation of women, the feminisation of poverty, and the unequal cost of divorce for men and women.
But, above all else, The Golden Rule is an entertaining, absorbing and fast-paced read that hits all the right spots and offers a satisfying conclusion. For those who are willing to suspend disbelief, it’s worth the ride.