A woman lives alone in a remote cabin for several years as part of a psychological experiment – until one day a lost hiker blunders into her compound. How will our heroine react? Was this chance meeting really an accident? And will E. J. Noyes succeed in turning her creepy psychodrama into a fluffy romance without making her readers queasy?
Alone introduces us to first-person narrator Celeste, a young woman haunted (literally) by her abusive childhood, and trying to maintain her fragile sanity after several years without any human contact other than text messages from the experiment controllers. When Olivia turns up, injured and needy, Celeste falls hard for her, until she starts to suspect that all is not as it seems. It’s an unsettling scenario, and Noyes does an excellent job in creating a sinister atmosphere, establishing Celeste’s naiveté and credulity and emphasising her vulnerability. By the time Olivia appears, the reader is fully prepared for the dark psychological thriller that seems sure to ensue.
What we get, however, is something rather different. Halfway through, the narrative takes a disconcerting swerve into swooning girl-meets-girl territory, and the resulting romance between what is effectively an abuser and her victim might make your skin crawl in ways Noyes doesn’t seem to have intended. Did she set out to write a dark satire about the dangers of gaslighting and the pernicious psychological damage inflicted by manipulative abusers in positions of power, or are we really expected to cheer for love conquering all, regardless of circumstances? Either way, here’s a trigger warning: anyone made uncomfortable by dubious consent issues might want to give Alone a miss.
To sum up: did I enjoy this book? No, I was rooting for Celeste to run straight to the police and demand a full investigation into how the experiment got past an ethics committee in the first place. Would I read other books by E. J. Noyes? Absolutely, yes! There’s no doubting the author’s talent, and while Alone was not my cup of tea, I’d definitely check out her other works.
*ARC provided by the publisher. You can download a sample or purchase Alone by clicking here upon release (5/15/19).