Saturday 17 March 2018

There are two sides to every story, but what if one is lying?


The Best Kind Of People

Zoe Whittall

Hodder & Stoughton


Eilis O'Hanlon

George Woodbury is one of the good guys. He's pro-choice; he donates to his local women's shelter; he encourages his daughter to believe that she can achieve anything. To cap it all, 10 years previously he was hailed a local hero after preventing a mass shooting at the prestigious prep school where he teaches.

Then the unthinkable happens. The police arrive at his door and take him away on charges of sexual misconduct with four underage girls and the attempted rape of a minor. George protests his innocence. He insists to his wife, Joan, that he's being set up. He doesn't know why and he doesn't know by whom, but he's adamant that he didn't do anything wrong. That's the premise of award-winning Canadian author and poet Zoe Whittall's third novel.

Wondering what one would do in the characters' shoes is very much part of the book's appeal. Initially, George's family don't believe he could be guilty of such things either, because false allegations can indeed happen to "the best kind of people". Then doubts begin to creep in. Joan discovers he'd been suspended from work over the allegations, and knew he was about to be arrested, but hadn't told her. Instead, the weekend before the arrest, he drank wine with her and prepared to celebrate their daughter Sadie's 17th birthday. Sadie herself is very conflicted. Her friend Amanda, sister to one of the girls making the accusation, claims "maybe she's lying. God knows she lies about everything to get her own way", while the ringleader of the group making the accusations is described as a "mean girl".

The book's epigraph comes from US feminist Kate Harding's book Asking For It, and states that rape culture's "most devilish trick is to make the average, non-criminal person identify with the person accused, instead of the person reporting the crime".

This might be true, but the novel itself makes identification with the alleged victims in this fictional scenario much harder, focused as it is almost exclusively on George Woodbury and his family. It's impossible for the reader to identify with any of the victims because we never get to meet them or hear their side of the story.

Despite this, The Best Kind Of People actually works. Rather than being too didactic, it plays with the moral dilemma of making fiction out of what is, for many people, real tragedy, resulting in a hugely satisfying and thought-provoking read about ordinary life's muddles and compromises.

Sunday Independent

Entertainment Newsletter

Going out? Staying in? From great gigs to film reviews and listings, entertainment has you covered.

Editors Choice

Also in Entertainment