The Confession by Jessie Burton
After the phenomenal success of The Miniaturist (and The Muse after it), the buzz surrounding Jessie Burton‘s latest release should come as no surprise. Whilst The Confession (2019) might seem like a very different kind of book (gone are the elements of the fantastical and the uncanny), Burton’s signature tension, suspense and an intricately characterised female cast remain.
In the winter of 1980, Elise Morceau meets Constance Holden on Hampstead Heath by chance. Connie is a successful writer. Older than Elise, she is alluring in a way that Elise has never known. The women’s lives quickly become entwined and Elise finds herself following Connie to Los Angeles to oversee the film adaptation of one of her novels.
In the (almost) modern day, in the timeline running parallel to Elise’s story, we meet Rose. Rose is a thirty-something year old woman at a crossroads in her life. Whilst her peers are settling down with children and husbands all around her, she finds herself questioning her relationship with her boyfriend Joe, a lackadaisical man whose burrito business (named Joerritos, with Burton’s stereotypical wryness) is doomed to fail. When her father reveals that her mother, a woman she has never met and knows next to nothing about, had a link to the author Constance Holden, Rose sets about trying to track the writer down.
The two narrative strands, Rose’s life with Connie in one, Elise’s life with Connie in the other, often shed light on one another. Burton creates believable female characters with great depth. Rose struggles with the questions every woman must ask herself: does she have agency over her own body? Must a woman’s life be defined by her role as a mother, or her role in a relationship? What does success constitute as?
Whilst the story spans a plethora of places, from London to Los Angeles, Mexico to New York, one cannot help but feel that The Miniaturist evoked a stronger sense of place in its description of 17th century Amsterdam. Though there were nods to the modern world in The Confession — including Instagram anxieties and twenty-something house shares — both timelines feel a little uprooted, as though they’ve been suspended in both time and place.
What Burton is not lacking, however, is character depth. The female characters are a pleasure to read. Rose is a plucky modern woman on the road to achieving self-actualisation, whilst Connie has some soul searching of her own to do. Elise can sometimes err on the pathetic and annoying, but one feels that that is precisely what Burton was trying to achieve. A supporting male cast of the insufferable Joe and Rose’s kindly father take a back seat, but work as a great sounding board for the women.
This is a story of love and friendship, of motherhood and abandonment, that will appeal to both fans of fantasy and literary fiction alike. Jessie Burton plots seamlessly and her prose, whilst less self-conscious and flowery than The Miniaturist, is still a pleasure to read. Ultimately, readers will root for the characters and that, surely, is what matters most.
I think I’d like this. The Miniaturist was a revelation to me. (And somehow, I’ve missed The Muse completely, and that must be rectified.)
I think you would really like it, Marion. And definitely check out The Muse too!