Ashley prides herself on her keen ambition and sees no reason why she shouldn’t achieve what she feels she deserves. There is always a cost, but that doesn’t necessarily have to be a cost borne by herself. The other employees in her new firm need to be conquered either by charm or clever manoeuvring but as long as the end result is that she powers up the corporate ladder, Ashley considers that things are progressing exactly as they should be.
We could perhaps say ‘plot twist’ or ‘pivot’ (you know, to be irritating like the cool kids) but either way you are getting a bit more bang for your buck than usual with THE RIVAL. It is very much like two novels found each other somewhere in the middle and decided to merge; one being a workplace psychological thriller, the other a drama piece about the horrors of new motherhood. We do have past and present perspectives so there is that fore knowledge that something horrific has happened to Helena since the motherhood train pulled into the station. We just don’t know during the read how that is connected to her working life. Were clues there all along?
THE RIVAL has a huge ticking bomb threaded throughout most of the read but it might not be what you think. It is definitely there (oh the wonders of hindsight when you’ve just finished a book) but the power of it is understated. Every single mother out there knows that your first pregnancy was the one where everyone began to look at you in a different way. You’ve suddenly been assigned a different role, and your own opinions on this altered status seem to have little or no relevance as to how people intend to newly perceive you. Also, every single woman out there knows that other women in the workplace are not necessarily there to support and lift you up. They too need to look after themselves first.
What THE RIVAL does extremely well is to keep the reader glued to the page. There’s a lot of subtleties and nuances here that will have you leaning one way or the other with your suspicions and sympathies. It’s possible to make the assessment that there are no outright bad guys, just different personality types and different approaches encountered. Just as you find in every large workplace. Odd bosses, easy going co-workers, paranoid desk jockeys etc. The creeping sense of unease that Helena is blindly walking into a nasty quagmire tensely propels a book that is not just all about women crawling over each other to get to the top. THE RIVAL is a reminder that when it all goes to hell, your safety and personal wellbeing are more important than any job. The earth is crumbling underneath Helena’s feet in this novel and she seems powerless to stop it.
British author Charlotte Duckworth has written a slow burn novel of what it means to confront a demon on more than one front at the same time. What are our strengths and who are our allies when life takes an unexpected turn? THE RIVAL will resonate with a broad spectrum of readers who will recognize that they’ve likely crossed paths with an Ashley at some point throughout their careers. It’s always an interesting question to put to yourself as to what lengths you are prepared to extend to when challenged.