“We Were Never Here” by Andrea Bartz is an involving domestic thriller; there are not too many surprises for anyone who reads a lot in the genre, but a tight plot and taut pacing makes it hard to put down.
Kristen and Emily have been best friends since college. Both had solitary upbringings, and they became uncommonly close at college. They’re now on the brink of their 30s, and still best friends.
But Kristen has moved to Australia for work, leaving Emily in the US. And Emily is starting to think that Kristen’s friendship isn’t enough for her; she wants a romantic relationship, marriage, kids.
The two women meet up in Chile for an off-the-grid holiday. It’s not the first time; they’ve had more than one adventurous holiday together. Towards the end, this one goes horribly awry. Kristen is attacked by a backpacker and has no choice but to kill him. They must cover up the murder to save themselves. After all, he was a bad guy, wasn’t he?
Remember watching movies with your hands over your eyes because they’re scary, but peeping through your fingers because you just have to know what happens? “We Were Never Here” provokes exactly the same feeling.
You know something awful is coming, you have a pretty good idea where it’s coming from, but you can’t step away until you know exactly what the awful thing is. This sense of suspense makes it hard to stop reading, even though the broad strokes of the story are pretty obvious.
A lot of the suspense is dependent on how much we believe Emily and her perception of events. She’s a strongly drawn character; most readers will empathise with her quickly. She’s likeable despite doing some horrific things. We’re inclined to believe her, and increasingly we react to Kristen just as she does.
Kristen too is a credible character. Her behaviour rings true – whatever you think her motivations are. These two characterisations are at the heart of the novel. They’re a believable portrait of female friendship. The gradual breakdown of the relationship is portrayed well, too; it’s credible, even in the context of a pretty unusual catalyst (murder).
Although I’ve described this as a domestic thriller – and it is – this is also a novel about relationships. What binds people together, what breaks them apart; how central trust is to any relationship. This is done extremely well and helps make the novel compelling, even though the broad plot is pretty obvious.
I really enjoyed this novel. The characterisations are strong and the relationships are well-drawn. Emily’s dilemma is believable and well depicted. It’s well-plotted and the pacing is excellent. I wasn’t surprised by much that happened, but that didn’t detract from my enjoyment of this well-written novel.
Author: Andrea Bartz
Copy courtesy of Penguin Fiction (2021)
A selection of our Beauty and Lace Club Members are reading We Were Never Here by Andrea Bartz. You can read their comments below, or add your own review.
I’ve loved books for as long as I can remember, and I love sharing that joy.
I’ve been an avid reader for as long as I can remember, across all genres. There’s not much I won’t at least try. I’ve been an enthusiastic book reviewer for years. I particularly enjoy discovering writers new to me, and sharing good writing with others.
My career has included time spent writing and editing technical documents, but it’s fiction that really moves me. I’ve reviewed for a number of different outlets over the years, and have been a judge in literary competitions.
I’m now raising little bookworms of my own, which brings a whole new kind of joy to sharing books.
More of my reviews can be found on my review blog www.otherdreamsotherlives.home.blog .