British author Barton follows her bestselling debut, The Widow, with another psychological thriller, The Child (Berkley, June).
For me, there has always been the irresistible lure of a secret. As a child, it was the keeping of secrets—the invented adventures playing in my head, the notes in invisible ink and the unspoken fear of monsters under the bed.
Then as I grew and started reading books from my parents’ bookshelves, I discovered the thrill of finding out other people’s private thoughts and actions. It began with detective stories—Sherlock Holmes and his powers of deduction, and the shoals of red herrings in Agatha Christie’s novels. The “ta da!” of a heavily concealed denouement.
But it was Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca that stopped me in my tracks. From the hypnotic first line—“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again”—I was drawn deep into this tragic love story and its gothic horror. I was no longer the observer of amateur detectives’ cleverness; I lived every moment of the tense, unsettling, and compelling narrative and was caught in the fabric of lies and silence that surrounded the real story. I was hooked. It was the first time I had been faced with the revelation that we can never really know anyone completely—even, or perhaps especially, those we love.
It was this fascination with hidden lives, I suspect, that led me to journalism; seeking to uncover the truth about people became a job. The questions I asked myself constantly when interviewing people were, “What do they know?”, “What are they not telling?”, “Why are they not telling?” Because I had to know. I still do. Now I unpick the web of deceit as a writer of psychological thrillers, starting with 2016’s The Widow and now, The Child.
And I am very much not alone. The psychological thriller has been with us at least since 1938, when du Maurier wrote her masterpiece, but with the international bestsellers Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train leading the way, I suspect we are witnessing the genre’s true flowering.
There is much speculation about why now. Perhaps it is because we live in an age when everything can be known and therefore, so much more must be hidden. We may like to pretend otherwise, but we all have thoughts we don’t want anyone else to know, things we’ve done that would change the way people feel about us, or parts of our lives that we would rather forget. For most of us, our protective lies or omissions are so insignificant that being found out would be only mildly embarrassing. But for some of us, our secret may threaten to destroy everything. And that is food and drink to a novelist.
Hidden lives: that’s what makes me write.