This tale of self-deception from a Dubai-based New Zealand writer should appeal to fans of Liane Moriarty.
The novel centres on three friends in their late thirties: Melinda, who’s about to float her successful company on the sharemarket; Aimee, happily married but struggling to manage anxiety; and Lou, a single mother on a low income who can’t control her teenage daughter.
They’ve been friends since childhood and each thinks she knows the others as well as they know themselves. But on New Year’s Eve, the trio decide to light illegal Chinese lanterns and send them floating off into the night. Minutes later, a small plane crashes nearby, badly injuring the pilot father and his son.
Anxious Aimee is convinced the lanterns caused the crash and wants to confess, but Melinda can’t let anything get in the way of her ambitions, and Lou potentially has even bigger worries. Thus begins a manipulative Mexican stand-off, with each woman doing her best to advance her own agenda, while caring less and less about what that might mean for her oldest friends.
Scott’s particular genius with this book is the way she shifts our sympathies from character to character, building them up so we’re convinced one is our favourite, until some revealed flaw or ill-advised action turns us away. Each woman is distinctly drawn and their personalities allow Scott to cover a range of issues, from humankind’s capacity for self-deception right through to meatier subjects of mental illness and women’s roles, bodies and perception in society.
If it sounds a little gruelling, it’s anything but. The writing is taut, sharp and full of wit and humour. And although it holds the petty worst of human nature up to the light, it does so with compassion. Everyone deserves the chance to be redeemed and forgiven, as long as they admit they’ve behaved badly.
Scott, a New Zealander living in Dubai, graduated from Victoria University’s International Institute of Modern Letters, which disproves the generally accepted idea about the kind of writer the institute produces. This is top-quality commercial fiction that should appeal to fans of Liane Moriarty, and should, quite rightly, become a huge bestseller.
NOT BAD PEOPLE, by Brandy Scott (HarperCollins, $35)
This article was first published in the February 23, 2019 issue of the New Zealand Listener.