The New Girl by Harriet Walker

This excellent investigation into female rivalry, jealousy and motherhood creates a superb level of tension throughout this gripping thriller.

Glamorous Margot Jones is the fashion editor at glossy women’s magazine Haute, and pregnant with her first child. Margot’s used to her carefully curated life being the object of other women’s envy – who wouldn’t want her successful career, loving husband, beautiful house and stylish wardrobe?
Maggie, a freelance journalist, certainly knows she doesn’t measure up. So when Margot gets in touch to suggest she apply for her maternity cover at Haute, Maggie seizes the chance at living a better life – even if it’s only temporary.
But the simultaneous arrival of Margot’s baby and a brutal end to her oldest friendship sends Margot into a spiral of suspicion and paranoia. Are Maggie’s motives as innocent as they seem? And what happens at the end of the year when Margot wants her old life back – especially if Maggie decides she doesn’t want to leave?

I really enjoyed this psychological investigation into the competition and jealously between these two women. I loved the added detail of their similar names, creating more tensions and building on the similarity between them. This tension and suspense just kept on building throughout the book, especially as small details such as their hairstyles or dress sense highlighted their similarity further. As Maggie becomes further ingrained in Margot’s life in a more personal aspect, the slightly sinister nature of their relationship becomes more obvious.

The dual, almost triple, plot in this book worked really well. The main plot other than the tension between the two women was Margot and the mysterious event from her past. It really emphasises the suspense as a lot of the tension radiates from Margot herself, so by building on her suspicious past the atmosphere really builds. This plot came to a head at just the right moment, allowing a bit of relief from all the tension for the reader, instead being replaced with shock at the reveal of what happened. I liked the pacing of this book, with reveals happening at just the right time. The connection of Margot’s past with the present day through her previous friend, Winnie, was also really clever, as it means the reader is trying to piece together Winnie’s current behaviour with the clues from the past.

I would argue that Maggie holds a third plot – while it may not be the most exciting or sinister plot when compared to Margot, her journey from single woman to a relationship, freelancer to editor, girl to woman, is a really fascinating story. Despite the fact she sometimes acts a lot younger than Margot, her confidence grows throughout while Margot becomes more suspicious and erratic. They contrast each other sharply but this book wouldn’t be as good as it is without the heavy focus on Maggie. If this had just been from Margot’s perspective it would be just another thriller, but with Maggie’s chapters there is an added element of confusion. The reader gets to see both sides of this clever story, with odd or suspicious behaviour coming from both women. What I particularly liked is how lots of their behaviour could be seen as both innocent or suspicious, which is testament to Walker’s excellent writing.

Of course a book this good had an ending to match. The pace picked up, there was a brilliant reveal, yet the focus on the women and their relationship with each other didn’t let up. Despite the shock reveal being a big part of the ending, I enjoyed seeing what happened to each of the women, Winnie included, as this is what the book is really about.

This was an excellent, tense and surprising thriller and one I would highly recommend.

The New Girl
Harriet Walker
Hodder & Stoughton, 9th July 2020

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