TITLE: LIP SERVICE
AUTHOR: M.J. ROSE
Details: Received from Simon & Schuster
(Before I start the review I should probably disclose that once upon a time, around the time this book was first published in fact, I used to be in an online book-group with M.J. Rose. This, rather distant, relationship has NOT influenced my review in any way, shape or form.)
Julia Stirling has been content in her life until recently. Married to Paul, a psychiatrist turned professional fund-raiser, she has willingly assisted him in his efforts to promote his charity for Fathers In Trouble as a charming, if shy hostess. As a student Julia had a nervous break-down after a period during which she indulged in various and short-lived sexual encounters. Marrying the cool and emotionally detached Paul and allowing him to make her decisions for her while keeping her on medication has for a long time been her refuge from that past. Recently though she has started to question her detachment from life. After obtaining a degree in journalism she has been writing articles on a free-lance and part-time basis and this return to self-sufficiency is awakening other needs in her. Needs her husband won’t acknowledge or tolerate. When Julia meets Sam Butterfield during a charity dinner she is fascinated by what he tells her about his work at a renowned sexual research centre. When he invites her to write a book about the work the institute does with the aid of telephone-therapists Julia jumps at the opportunity and asks to be trained as such a therapist as a form of research. She is slightly taken aback when she discovers that the therapy provided is in reality a form of phone sex but, once her initial shock wears of, she discovers that she is enjoying the way those phone conversations with sometimes desperate men make her feel. When one of her clients confesses to harming his step-daughter and needing her help in order to stop Julia is confused and conflicted. And because she has been keeping her research a secret from Paul, who doesn’t want her involved with the Butterfield institute at all, she is facing her confused feelings alone. And then there are the accusations made against Sam; is it possible that he is not just the charming therapist he appears to be? Julia has to make a decision that requires the sort of strength she hasn’t displayed in years; a decision that will have far-reaching consequences not just for her but also for a lot of people around her.
I loved this book. I really enjoyed this story about a woman who has been repressing her true self for years and slowly awakens to everything she really is and can be. There is enough background information for the reader to understand why Julia has been happy to allow her husband to rule her life for so long, just as it is easy to understand why that has changed for her at this particular point in her life.
In fact, I am very impressed with this book. This story embraces so many genres; psychological thriller, mystery, erotica and romance all intertwine to bring the reader a powerful, seductive and suspenseful read. And M.J. Rose’s achievement is even more impressive when you realise that this was her first published novel, back in 1999. I did read other works by this author in the past and knew I liked her writing-style and stories, but I was pleasantly surprised to discover that her earliest work is as good as those later books are.
M.J. Rose manages to create realistic characters it is easy to identify with even if their experiences are very different from the readers'. The main character in this book comes across as a real person. The reader may not agree with every decision she makes but will be able to understand why she makes them.
The writing in this book is smooth and descriptive. The pictures painted of the surroundings are as easy to picture as they are symbolic of what is going on inside Julia’s head and heart.
The tension in this story slowly creeps up on the reader. What at first appears to be a rather sedate story almost imperceptibly turns into a full-blown thriller. I found myself rushing to turn the pages while at the same time being very careful not to miss a single one of the well chosen words.
In short this was a fascinating and engrossing read by an author who has yet to disappoint me. My only regret is that it can be rather hard to find books by M.J. Rose in the bookshops here in Ireland.