5 Stars · Reviews

Review: Putney by Sofka Zinovieff

Wow guys! August is almost over. Today, I snuck a look at my insights and statistics for how my blog is doing in terms of traffic, etc. I try not to, because sometimes it can be quite discouraging, and even though my traffic has suffered a little bit, I noticed I blogged quite a bit less this month. Of course, I don’t plan on apologizing for being busy, but I also feel like I read some books that I didn’t quite enjoy and that took up some of the time that I could have spent flying through books that I did. Either way, I finished up season 5 of The 100 on Netflix, so I’ll be reading more books and hopefully posting more.

Now to talk about the book that has completely captivated my attention for the 4 and a half hours (not all at once) that took me to read it. Putney by Sofka Zinovieff was sent to me by the publisher, and I was super duper excited when it arrived because I had heard so much about it. I was so not prepared for it though, because it was truly absolutely genius. E7027152-9AD4-4D98-8BD8-366C49F0C746Before I get going with the review and synopsis (following this sentence) I do want to put a trigger warning; this book contains grooming, sexual assault of children, rape, and hints at suicide.

A provocative and absorbing novel about a teenage girl’s intoxicating romance with a powerful older man and her discovery, decades later, that her happy memories are hiding a painful truth.

A rising star in the London arts scene of the early 1970s, gifted composer Ralph Boyd is approached by renowned novelist Edmund Greenslay to score a stage adaptation of his most famous work. Welcomed into Greenslay’s sprawling bohemian house in Putney, an artistic and prosperous district in southwest London, the musical wunderkind is introduced to Edmund’s beautiful activist wife Ellie, his aloof son Theo, and his young daughter Daphne, who quickly becomes Ralph’s muse.

Ralph showers Daphne with tokens of his affection—clandestine gifts and secret notes. In a home that is exciting but often lonely, Daphne finds Ralph to be a dazzling companion for many years. When Ralph accompanies Daphne alone to meet her parents in Greece, their relationship intensifies irrevocably. One person knows the truth about their relationship: Daphne’s best friend Jane, whose awe of the intoxicating Greenslay family ensures her silence.

Decades later Daphne is back in London. After years lost to decadence and drug abuse, she is struggling to create a normal, stable life for herself and her adolescent daughter. When circumstances bring her back in touch with her long-lost friend, Jane, their reunion inevitably turns to Ralph, now a world-famous musician also living in the city. Daphne’s recollections of her youth and her growing anxiety over her own young daughter eventually lead to an explosive realization that propels her to confront Ralph and their years spent together.

Masterfully told from three diverse viewpoints—victim, perpetrator, and witness—Putney is a subtle and enormously powerful novel about consent, agency, and what we tell ourselves to justify what we do, and what others do to us.

This novel has so much going on, and so much to talk about that it is hard to start. The topic at hand, the thread running through the novel is one that has been brought to the surface by recent movements such as #metoo and others. Worse, it involves children. However, Sofka does an AMAZING job crafting a narrative that describes and chronicles what happens without being explicit (which probably would have been too much for me). I was never exposed to the idea of grooming children to love adults, and this book opened my eyes to how adults in powers of position can make children feel like their relationship is okay, and to hide it from their parents, etc.

Putney also frustrated me to no end. Particularly in the beginning, before the realization of the wrongness of the relationship from Daphne’s end, I wanted to scream at Daphne, at her parents. How were they okay with an older man coming and hanging out with their daughter on a regular basis? How was Daphne not weirded out by someone 18 years older than her being so completely obsessed by her? I wanted to shield her and keep her from the world, but of course, thats the point of the novel.

Even Ralph, one of the most vile, despicable character I have had the privilege of reading about was well formed and human. His thoughts and justifications for his actions were understandable (in that I could see how he excused his actions), despite making my skin crawl. I have no idea how Sofka Zinovieff was able to crawl into this man’s head and pour it onto the pages, but she did so stunningly. I wanted to confront him, to somehow convince him to stop before it was too late, but of course I couldn’t – and of course his actions caught up to him and he realized his wrongdoings much much too late for reform.

I know that some of the ending was not to my liking, and I do think it could have been a little bit more expanded, but that is a personal preference, and overall, the story drew me in so much, and spoke to me in such a way that I could overlook that. If you can stomach the topic, I highly highly recommend that you read this one. It is truly an important topic and will hopefully spark discussion for time to come. And as always, let me know your thoughts, and questions.

I also want to take the time and ask about book clubs, buddy reads and the likes. How do the rest of you navigate these? I would like to read with some people, and discuss, but I feel like some of the really big group reads on Instagram are too much for me, and have yet to figure out any other way to really connect and read a book together. Let me know what you do and how you like it!


2 thoughts on “Review: Putney by Sofka Zinovieff

  1. I love your review of this one! It’s on my wishlist and I really want to read it. I like smaller group reads or buddy reads myself, so I understand what you mean. As you share your TBR books on your blog, you might find others’ commenting that they have the same books coming up, and you or that person may offer to do a buddy read! I’ve found many opportunities that way. ♥️

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You should read it!! It’s been awhile since I’ve read a book I’ve liked so much, and I feel that it speaks about necessary topics in this day and age.
      That’s actually a really good idea! Hopefully I can fins someone interested in the same books as me next month so I can discuss the books o read. Thanks for the suggestion!

      Liked by 1 person

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