Summer book review: The Good Girl by Fiona Neill

How much is too much to share on social media? 

This is a question I ask myself all the time. 

But what if it’s not you doing the sharing?

In a society where we’re all so snap happy, I recently had to draw the line at some post-baby bikini pictures that appeared on Facebook of me recently. 

In believing that she was merely posting millions of her own boring holiday snaps, my friend hadn’t even considered that I might be uncomfortable about featuring online frolicking semi-naked beside the pool with my nappy clad tot. 

I don’t care that she thought I looked great. The idea of male work colleagues (etc.) seeing the pictures brought me out in hives. 

And don’t even get me started on the naked pictures of my baby. 

They had to come down. 

Fortunately, I spotted the images within minutes of them being uploaded, but there was still an agonising hour of refreshing my screen, hoping that they hadn’t already been “liked” or “shared”  and effectively gone forth and multiplied. 

Thankfully, my good friends are generally reasonable people. This was an innocent – albeit thoughtless – act.

But there’s a far more hideous side to over-sharing in today’s society: Revenge Porn – the fall out of which is the key theme examined by Fiona Neill’s latest book, “The Good Girl.”

As the novel begins, we meet headteacher, Ailsa, in her office towards the end of the chronological time-line, where she is preparing to confront her teenage daughter, Romy, with some shocking findings. 

As the novel unfolds, we soon discover that family life for Ailsa and her husband Harry has become complex. 

Foppish Harry, an academic neuro-scientist, had confessed to an affair with a post-grad student in London, resulting in an ousting from his post. Just as the couple begin to enjoy their fresh start in Norfolk, Ailsa’s mother passes away, requiring the family to take in her recovering alcoholic/early stage dementia father into their new home. 

And then to compound matters further, some new-age sex therapists move in next door, with their unwanted advice, gorgeous sons and polar opposite answers for everything. 

There’s a lot going on and straight ‘A’ student, Romy, appears to be the one thing that Ailsa doesn’t have to worry about. 

With alternate chapters narrated in the first person by Romy, we follow a loss of innocence through her eyes as she uncovers the brutal reality of why the family had to move away from the big city.

After discovering secrets on Harry’s old phone, Romy reacts by being spurred into a shocking sexual experiment with the neighbour’s son Jay, using her father’s professional and unprofessional insights as guiding principles.

Modern technology plays a silent, ever present character throughout this novel. Whether through Romy’s actions, Harry’s sexting, younger brother Ben’s home movies or Ailsa’s Facebook stalking of her first love – the realities of modern relationships are starkly laid bare, illustrating how all actions have consequences like never before in an age of such easy access into the private lives of others.

Having been sceptical as to whether these themes could be told in a fresh, intelligent and original way, I found this to be a surprisingly compelling, shocking, tragic and thought provoking novel with a convincing character line up. 

It also left me pondering whether the novel’s interrupted “Good Girl” was not only referring to Romy but Ailsa too, as she is forced to take a long hard look at her own foolish lust driven decisions, made in the age before smartphones could have exposed them to the world. 

Frankly, the issues raised in “The Good Girl” are ones that anyone over the age of 30 should consider before passing too swift a judgement on a younger generations’ antics.

In fact, I was left wondering whether Ailsa – a women with a public facing moral code of exemplary nature – was actually the worst offender of the lot? 

And how would any of us fight back if our deepest darkest secrets went viral? 

By the end, I softened to Ailsa as a character and was sympathetic to the range of issues raised in the novel. 

A smart and contemporary read, well worth picking up.

Thanks to Mumsnet and the team at Penguin for asking me to review this book. The Good Girl by Fiona Neill is available now to purchase online or In-store at all good book shops.

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