tender | complex | punchy | thought-provoking | intelligent
what it says on the cover …
Celebrated, bestselling, elusive…who is Maud Dixon?
Florence Darrow wants to be a writer. Correction: Florence Darrow IS going to be a writer. Fired from her first job in publishing, she jumps at the chance to be assistant to the celebrated Maud Dixon, the anonymous bestselling novelist. The arrangement comes with conditions – high secrecy, living in an isolated house in the countryside . Before long, the two of them are on a research trip to Morocco, to inspire the much-promised second novel. Beach walks, red sunsets and long, whisky-filled evening discussions…win-win, surely? Until Florence wakes up in a hospital, having narrowly survived a car crash.
How did it happen – and where is Maud Dixon, who was in the car with her? Florence feels she may have been played, but wait, if Maud is no longer around, maybe Florence can make her mark as a writer after all…
PUBLISHED: 4th March 2021
SHELF: Fiction | Suspense | Thriller
AUTHOR: Alexandra Andrews
PUBLISHER: Tinder Press
FORMATS: Hardback | Kindle | Audiobook
my review …
Usually, when I read a book populated by characters I don’t like, my opinion of them tends to influence my enjoyment of the book. But with superb cunning and fabulous writing, Who Is Maud Dixon? has spectacularly bucked the trend. Both leading ladies – Florence Darrow and Helen Wilcox – are obnoxious peas in a narcissistic pod; they’re impossibly prickly … and it’s really no wonder that both their lives are barren of friends … and yet their brazen, go-get-it forthrightness made for the most enjoyably compelling book.
The book’s early chapters are set in New York, against the backdrop of a book publishers where Florence works amongst colleagues she has a barely concealed disdain for. The New York chapters were, on balance, my least favourite elements of the story, but they serve as an important introduction to Florence; disclosing her nature, her backstory, and her literary ambitions. They also create the circumstances where Florence’s world collides with Helen’s … not to mention raising the mystery that’s been the talk of the literary world – who exactly is Maud Dixon, and was her debut novel, Mississippi Foxtrot, autobiographical?
At first, I struggled to settle into the story; the disconnect between the enticing, super-promising prologue, and the early, New York-based chapters was vast. And then there’s my struggle to like Florence. I opened the book without having read the synopsis (hmmmm, in truth, I had read the synopsis, but that was back in March, so I was essentially coming into this blind) and I had expected to meet a character the author wanted me to connect with. Yes, Florence is young and ambitious and bold, but there were increasingly frequent glimpses of a character who was becoming more than a little abrasive, and I found myself wondering how much I was going to enjoy this.
But therein lies the beauty of this book – the scene was being set, and we, the readers, are being kept right up on our toes. Something about the book – the promise of a great mystery, the eloquent writing – kept me hooked, and I am SO glad of that.
So, when Helen entered the story I assumed she would be the role model who’d steer Florence to the career she felt she deserved … and perhaps make her more likeable too! Yet, once again, the author cast that naive expectation of mine out, writing Helen to be just as disagreeable and volatile. Helen is a hugely successful author, although nobody but she, her agent Greta, and now Florence too, know this. She’s everything Florence wants to be, and not long after Florence moves in to Helen’s home she starts adjusting her behaviours in a borderline bunny-boiler way.
For me, the chapters set in Morocco mark the point where the story really begins to take off. Their arrival during an unseasonably early ‘chergui’, with winds from the Sahara bringing excessive heat and dust and, according to local lore, bad luck, make for a distinctly moody atmosphere. As soon as I read this I perked up … immediately the temper and countenance shifted to something a little more noir and restless. I found myself devouring the sumptuously rich details of Marrakech and Semat that spill from the author’s ‘pen’ with evocative precision. I’ve never been to Morocco but having read (and adored!) Christine Mangan’s Tangerine in 2018, I felt like I was returning to this vibrant country, albeit with some sixty years between the two. Both books have made themselves firmly onto my ‘favourites’ list for their shared atmospheric excellence … so perhaps this review now serves as two recommendations in one!
The inspired move to have two such disagreeable main characters means the reader pins as many hopes to the success of them both, as they do to their individual downfalls – we’re literally beholden to the whim of the author’s sharp plot twists. It’s pretty liberating … it completely frees you up to enjoy the ride. And what a ride! As the book draws ever closer to its conclusion, the twists and bluffs are as sharp and sassy as the two leading ladies … it’s the bookish equivalent of the shell game, demanding your full, unblinking attention to keep track of the plot as the author cunningly hides it and shifts it and teases it right before your eyes, and yet still conjures up an unexpected new twist.
Who Is Maud Dixon? has surprised me in the most entertaining way. It somehow manages to combine the taut goosebumps of a simmering golden-age slow-burner with the pace and intoxication of a top-end, contemporary psychological thriller. The prose and tone flow beautifully, with a stylish delivery and a fresh, imaginative plot. This is a remarkable debut novel, and it’s left me feeling anticipatory butterflies for what comes next. I truly hope the author encounters a far smoother journey for her second novel than Maud Dixon did!
Thank you to Jessica Farrugia at Headline for sending me a beautiful, finished hardback copy of Who Is Maud Dixon in return for an impartial review. And thanks also to NetGalley for approving my request for a digital copy … proving you can’t have too much of a good thing.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my honest review of this book.
If this book sounds like one you’d love to read too, here’s a selection of purchase links:
• To buy direct from the author/publisher, click ☞ here
• To support independent local bookshops, click ☞ here
• To feed your Waterstones ‘plus’ loyalty card, click ☞ here
• And of course, here is the ubiquitous Amazon link
Alexandra Andrews has written for ProPublica, New York Magazine and Huffington Post, been a commercial copy writer, and even interned at The Paris Review. She’s lived in New York all her life, except for the year and a half she spent in Paris writing Who Is Maud Dixon? She now lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two children and is working on her second novel.
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