|Publisher/s:||Penguin Random House/Bantam House|
|Date of publication:||2021|
|Disclaimer:||Penguin Random House South Africa kindly sent me a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.|
Lizzie and Alice were the best of friends, and did absolutely everything together – they were inseparable. Lizzie had epilepsy and didn’t really have any friends other than Alice, who was her protector. When Lizzie was having fits Alice would be there to stop the other kids from bullying her and ostracising her.
One day when the girls were about 13 they decided to go for one of their ‘walks’ that ran close to a train track. They had been arguing about a boy that day. Hours later Lizzie woke up by the side of the track, and Alice was gone. She was dead. Lizzie had no memory of having a seizure, or how (or why) Alice was killed by an oncoming train. After that fateful day, Lizzie would always be blamed for her friend’s death – by the other kids at school, by Alice’s parents, and by Alice’s older sister Catherine. Eventually, the family moved away.
Twelve years later and Lizzie is 25 years old. She still has epilepsy, but she’s managing it with medication. She still doesn’t really have any friends, but that’s okay because she has Ross and they are engaged to be married, and soon she will discover that she is pregnant and will finally have a family of her own. Though it’s been 12 years Lizzie has never forgotten her best friend, and though she’s spent years trying to remember, she still has no idea what happened the day Alice died.
Lizzie is finally starting to feel as though she can move on with her life – until the news of an 11-year-old girl killed by a train brings all the anxiety of the past back. Then she finds a tiny toy train at her front gate. Did someone leave it there on purpose or is Lizzie simply feeling guilty about the fact that she may have caused Alice’s death all those years ago?
When Alice’s sister Catherine suddenly appears back in her life Lizzie becomes paranoid and angry. Angry because when Alice died Catherine, believing Lizzie to be responsible, began to make her life an absolute misery. She bullied and tormented Lizzie, and that’s when the nightmares began, nightmares that have started coming back. In them, Lizzie sees herself fighting with Alice, and maybe she even sees herself pushing her friend in front of that oncoming train.
Lizzie becomes convinced that Catherine cannot possibly have changed, and that her presence is not the coincidence everyone seems to think it is, including Ross and her parents. Though her parents seem to have their own secrets from that time. They never wanted Lizzie and Alice to be friends from the beginning and refused to tell their daughter why she couldn’t play with the only person who wanted to be her friend.
The Dare is told from three perspectives: Lizzie in the present – happily engaged to a lovely man and about to become a mother, despite her fear that her epilepsy will make it difficult for her to be a good mother. Then there is the Lizzie of the past – the little girl whom no one wanted to play with because of her seizures, and let’s face it, was a little bit odd anyway. The third perspective is an unknown voice. The voice of someone that is neither Lizzie nor Alice and someone that knows exactly what happened that day at the train track.
Lesley Kara’s novel is so very addictive. Her writing is compulsively readable, and the more you delve into Lizzie’s life the more you question her position as a reliable narrator. That being said it is hard not to have sympathy for her precarious situation. From a little girl who experienced incredible trauma, and a childhood spent ridiculed for her epilepsy, to a grown woman finally finding some form of peace with her past and having it destroyed in the most sinister way, Lizzie’s nightmares become the reader’s nightmares too.
This slow-burn suspense thriller is an experience of an intensity akin to waiting in a dark room, hearing a noise, and having no way of turning on a light, no way of knowing when exactly the noise in the darkness will reach you. Your only choice is to wait for the invisible hands to grab your ankles and either drag you into the unknown or pick you up and bring you into the safety of daylight.