Title: The Pretenders
Author: Agatha Zaza
Publisher: Agora Books
Publication date PB: 3rd December 2020 / eBook: 5th November 2020
Genre: Fiction (domestic)
Format reviewed: Advanced Review Copy
Number of pages: 288
‘I’m perfectly happy lying to myself…If it means getting to stay with you.’
Jasper is ready to surprise his brother; Holly is ready to celebrate their engagement.
Anne tags along for fear of missing out, and John might just be going for another drink.
But Edmund and Ovidia had other plans for their Saturday.
Over the course of one day, these couples must own up to the secrets they’ve been hiding from one another and the lies they’ve been telling themselves.
And face the devastating consequences.
Three couples. Two exes. One day. One reckoning.
The Pretenders was everything I expected it to be.
‘I’m perfectly happy lying to myself… If it means getting to stay with you.’
Words loaded with meaning as an amuse-bouche. The tone is set; get ready for some lies. Not just the regular lies to tell others when you are late or when you forgot something. There is something special in lying to yourself. Fooling others is easy. Fooling yourself is trickier. It requires so much energy and strength to make you believe in things you know deep inside are not true, or are different from what you pretend they are…
If you haven’t guessed yet, I was hooked before I opened my copy. My mind was running.
The opening is violent in its intensity and in the sheer force of the emotions contained. You can almost feel the pages trembling with anger and pain, and I had no idea why. An helpless witness to a dark opening, I felt my heart break without being able to fathom the reason. Three pages, two characters, one house, and something more hinted at by a stunning writing style filled with the right amount of details to make you part of the picture. I knew I’d jumped in a muddy puddle. Ghosts were around the house and wrapping themselves around Edmund and Ovidia as they made their first steps into my world… or me into theirs. Oh I loved this opening! So promising…
Do you often pop in at a friend’s house on a Saturday morning? Or maybe to a family member’s house? Jasper has the fantastic idea to visit his brother Edmund to celebrate the news of his engagement to the lovely Holly. I’m not against having guests, but unless you’re on my close friends’ list, give me a call first!
What sounds like a mundane visit soon turns into what I can only call a performance. Everyone has something on their mind. Everyone fakes smiles and politeness but the feeling something is off is so powerful that no matter how much they try, it feels like a bad-rehearsed play. The atmosphere in the house when Edmund, Ovidia, and their guests tip-toe around each other is so suffocating I wondered when one of them would die of asphyxia! Well, the novel is not called The Pretenders for nothing…
Because everyone is pretending. Edmund, always in a suit, busy, and boring, the perfect cliché of an English businessman, is in his PJs! Ovidia is the question mark in the house, as no one knew she would be there. Ovidia is the big joker in this poker game. John and Holly, married and happy friends of the group, also have a closet holding a few skeletons, and Jasper, Edmund’s brother and soon-to-be married to Holly, is having one of the weirdest day of his life.
Reading The Pretenders was like being stuck in a mirror house. Depending on the angle your eye caught, you got a glimpse of something that didn’t quite make sense, that would nag at your subconscious mind. A simple announcement turned into a claustrophobic nightmare where everyone did their best to play their assigned role. But the weight of the job is so heavy that someone, or something, is always going to break.
As I swiftly turned the pages, I found myself really relishing the writing. Agatha Zaza has a beautiful, subtle, but efficient way to explore the psychology of her protagonists through a wise and precise choice of words. A chuckle is going to have so much power. A glance is going to turn into an ominous sign. The claustrophobia is not only felt through the action, or the stillness of the characters, but through those tiny details that turn a narrative into a weapon. A weapon that shows us just how us, human beings, make our lives so much more complicated than it has to be. A weapon that shows that pretending may be a defense mechanism, but if we are not careful, it takes us away from the world, and from ourselves.
Until the coat of sugar melts and the true colors appear. Then the hurt has nowhere to hide, the painful memories or past actions are out in the open, the scars are red and raw.
Agatha Zaza knows domestic tragedy. You don’t need Greek gods and guys in too little clothes for a true cathartic play. You only need to grab your copy of The Pretenders.
Publication day is coming, just click on the link to be sure to get this outstanding book!
Amazon (PS: the ebook is only 99p at the time this review is published)
The biggest thank you to Peyton at Agora Books for sending me a beautiful proof of this novel and for inviting me to be part of the book tour in exchange for an honest review.
Agatha Zaza is a Zambian and Finn at present living in Auckland, New Zealand. Her writing is a departure from her work in fundraising and international development.
The Pretenders was born in Singapore, where she spent three years as a trailing spouse, where she rekindled a long-dormant love of writing. Aside from Singapore, Agatha has worked and lived several countries, among them Uganda and the then Soviet Union. While in Ireland, she earned a Master’s in Equality Studies from University College Dublin and worked in a genuine Irish pub.
Agatha’s work can be seen in the Johannesburg Review of Books and in a PEN International special edition on African writers. She has also published three short books on Amazon. She’s been a passionate slow runner for two and half decades and has recently taken up composting and staring at her new sewing machine.
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