The Rival by Charlotte Duckworth


Charlotte Duckworth: The Rival

Published By: Quercus on 6th September 2018

Buy It: here

What the Blurb Says:

Helena is a career woman with no job and a mother without a baby. She blames Ashley for destroying her life. But is what happened really Ashley’s fault?

When Helena hires Ashley to work for her, she’s startled but impressed by her fierce ambition. They form a dream team and Helena is proud – maybe this is the protégée she’s always wanted to have. But soon Helena realizes that nothing will stand in the way of Ashley’s drive to get to the top. And when Helena becomes pregnant, everything she has worked so hard for is suddenly threatened, with devastating consequences…

What I Say:

I am going to be honest, I was wary of offering to review The Rival. I thought that it was going to be one of those ‘psychological thrillers’ that are all over the bookshops at the moment.  I don’t know about you,  but I am almost at the point where if I see one more novel promising twists and turns that you won’t see coming, I think I might have to scream into a cushion!

So, let me start by telling you that The Rival is so much more and is a brilliant timely and relevant read for all women.

It is a powerful and heartfelt study not only of female ambition and drive, and how women are damned if they work and damned if they don’t, but it also intelligently examines what it means to be a woman in society today.

The narrative in The Rival moves between the past and the present.  We meet Helena, a woman who we learn has lost a baby, and has been the victim of a campaign by her protegee Ashley,  who will stop at nothing to get the life she wants, even at the expense of Helena’s wellbeing.

Helena and her husband live in the countryside, she is currently undergoing therapy and the geographical isolation of her house seems to echo her distance from work and everyday life.  We know that Helena has lost a child and is grieving, unable to connect with her husband. She is haunted by the constant number of cars that crash into the wall of her house, often acting as the medic and counsellor until the ambulance can arrive at the scene.

What is striking about this is that it seems that Helena is slightly in a dream like state, and that as a reader, you immediately sense that this novel is far more layered than it first seems…

When her previous boss David, gets in touch with Helena to offer her a contact to get back into the world of work, she is determined that Ashley is not part of the conversation. It is becoming increasingly clear that we understand something has happened between them which has changed their lives forever.

Ashley is a young, focussed and ambitious young woman, who starts work at Helena’s company (KAMU – Kiss and Make Up).  From the start of the novel, we are in no doubt that Ashley has a career path in mind, and no one, especially not Helena, is going to stop her.

Helena and Ashley start to work together, and from the moment they share office space, Ashley is working on her plan to make sure that Helena becomes dispensable.  She puts all her energies into developing a proposal to move the company forward, and is horrified when Helena seemingly steals her ideas and presents them to David their boss. Furious with Helena, Ashley steamrollers her way onto Helena’s team and every decision she makes is designed to make Helena realise that she is not as powerful as she thinks.

Charlotte’s writing means you feel Ashley’s anger and irritation with Helena seep through every page of this novel and I was both intrigued and appalled by her!  So often, novels just make the ‘bad’ character a stereotyped cartoonish image, with no depth and little understanding of why they act like they do.  What I loved about The Rival is that we see into Ashley’s background, we learn how she has had to deal with so much in her life, and that her ambition is borne of a desire to be the best she can, so that she never ends up like her mum.

With Ashley now pushing forward, and Helena seemingly being excluded from decisions and meetings, Helena discovers she is pregnant.  This, for me, elevates The Rival way above the many novels I have read before.  Charlotte writes frankly and intelligently about women not only in the workplace, but also how they are defined and limited by the expectations of society the minute they become pregnant.

Far from relaxing and enjoying her pregnancy, Helena is constantly on edge as she battles to retain her position in the company.  Ashley now comes into her own, and sees this as the perfect opportunity to usurp Helena – I mean, after all, how can you trust a hormonal pregnant woman who may not come back anyway.  You need a young, driven and focussed woman who will not be leaving early to pick up her child – someone just like Ashley.

This was for me the crux of the novel.  The world would be a far more contented place if women supported each other, but the issue is that we are trying to work within a society that is patriarchal – it does not often support women, and leaves them fighting for their careers.  When you are on maternity leave, you can’t relax, because you know that most of your salary will be spent on childcare when you return to work, and that from the moment you do return, your whole way of working has to change.  You have to work twice as hard, always worried that you will get a call asking you to collect your child. I know when I was working, and my son was poorly, my husband and I would be arguing as to who was the least busy and could afford to take the time off.

Helena starts to realise exactly what Ashley is doing, but of course, she knows that eventually she will have to leave to have her baby, and then everything is out of her control.  Interestingly, Ashley is also irritated that if Helena leaves, she may not have a project to work on and so has to fight for her professional life.  So she cleverly decides to have some meetings in New York, knowing that Helena can’t fly, and Ashley seemingly gets everything she wants…

As Ashley starts to live the life she wants, we finally discover how Helena lost her baby, and The Rival seamlessly comes to its brilliant conclusion (no, am not going to tell you!)!

This is when the jaw dropping, did not see that coming, check back to make sure I read it correctly moments happen, and it was fantastic!

The Rival is a novel that is not easily categorised, and that is part of its fantastic appeal.  It is a clever and satisfying read, that I felt raised so many pertinent issues for all women.  Charlotte Duckworth has written a smart, challenging and timely novel, which is not only a joy to read, but is also compassionate and eloquent.

At the heart of The Rival, lies a simple truth.

If women devoted more time to supporting each other rather than trying to tear each other down, just think of what we could really achieve.

I loved it.

Thank you to Quercus Books and Ella Patel for my copy of The Rival in exchange for an honest review and to participate in this blog tour.

The Blog Tour continues with these amazing bloggers. See what they are saying about The Rival too…


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