‘I love you, Jo, and I want you to love me. I want to have a future with you’.
I’ve read a lot of thrillers this year. And I really do mean A LOT. Many of them were really good but this one completely and utterly creeped me out. I’ve been trying to work out exactly why and I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s probably because I found the premise so terrifyingly plausible. There are no super-intelligent detectives in this story and no heart-racing pursuit and capture. There’s just one woman in her own home, with one man.
So what’s it about?
Jo Atkins’ sixteenth year was disastrous: she lost her dad, was assaulted by a stranger, and then had her heart broken. For the last twenty-five years, she’s believed that nothing could ever be as bad again.
She was wrong.
Now, still smarting from her recent divorce, pretty, self-effacing Jo finally gathers the courage to enter the dating scene. She meets Claudio, whom she vaguely remembers from her youth, but after a few dates decides he’s creepy and politely tells him ‘thanks but no thanks’.
But Claudio has no intention of letting her go.
Instead of never seeing him again, Jo wakes up sick and terrified, handcuffed to her own bed. She is given a week to prove her love for Claudio—or he will kill her.
Claudio, it turns out, is a man with nothing left to lose.
Jo is kidnapped by Claudio with the help of a healthy dose of Rohypnol. She is kept as a prisoner in her own home by a man who became obsessed with her years before her marriage, and whose obsession has never dwindled. Jo remembers him as someone who’d ‘always kind of given me the creeps’ – it turns out with very good reason. When she comes around from her drug-induced state, she realises that he has screwed her windows shut and removed anything from her flat with which she could do herself, or him, any harm.
In the course of searching for anything that could help her in her plight, Jo comes across her old diary. Claudio is delighted: ‘This will give us a perfect talking point. I want to know everything about you, everything. We have so many years to catch up on, to find out where we went wrong – and we have all the time in the world to do it’. From this point on, the narrative splits. On the one hand we witness Jo’s terrifying reality and on the other, her flashbacks to 1986 – the year she met Claudio – and the events that have helped to shape her future.
We are with Jo as she starts to blame herself for her situation: ‘If I had different instincts, I’d never have walked down that alley’ and when she considers her best route to survival: ‘Surely it’s better to sit passively and mentally practise how to convince him of my ‘love’, than risk disaster by provoking him?’
Somehow, Voss manages to pack a little bit of everything into this story without ever making it feel as though it’s been shoe-horned in. As well as her divorce, we learn of Jo’s infidelity, of her struggle to conceive, of her friendships and her grief: ‘The pain that sweeps over me at this realisation makes me truly believe I could die from grief’.
I’m not going to talk about the ending as I don’t want to give anything away. Suffice it to say that his novel is an all-rounder that packs a real punch. I couldn’t put it down. Huge thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy in exchange for a review.
‘I think he has broken me, not just my heart. I feel broken’.
The Venus Trap is only £3.98 on kindle right now: The Venus Trap