Worry by Jessica Westhead
Reviewed by Menaka Raman-Wilms
Worry by Jessica Westhead is a novel that builds tension and suspense throughout the entire story. It’s focused on Ruth, who, along with her young daughter, is visiting friends at a cottage on a lake. Ruth’s friend, Stef, who’s there with her husband and daughters, is quite overbearing, and Ruth is often pushed to do things she doesn’t quite want to. She doesn’t fully trust their neighbour Marvin either, who often joins the group.
Over the course of her time at the cottage, secrets of Ruth’s past are revealed, which invites the reader to understand the circumstances of Ruth’s life. Tension between Ruth and Marvin also builds, ultimately leading to dramatic circumstances on the final night at the lake.
At just over 200 pages, the novel is a quick read. The prose is strong and clear, and it uses moments from Ruth’s past in order to explain her current situation.
The book does an excellent job of building tension. The reader is never quite sure what the whole picture is, and so is kept on edge for the majority of the novel. In this sense, the book lives up to its title: the underlying anxiety incites worry and constant concern for what happens to Ruth and her daughter. The novel also works up to disclosing a couple of big secrets about the characters’ pasts, which keeps the reader engaged.
However, the book’s ending can be unsatisfying on account of Ruth’s lack of learning and development. Ruth is bullied and walked over by those around her, and the story seems to set up the expectation that might change over the course of the novel, as these relationships are a key part of the story. However, the end of the book leaves Ruth just as submissive as she was at the start. This lack of personal development is wholly unsatisfying, and seems to undercut some of the book’s other successes.
There are also a few plot details that leave questions in the mind of the reader, such as why parents would continuously go out of their way to help another child when it’s harming their own, or why Stef and her husband are not concerned when Marvin has a particular interest in their young daughters.
Despite this, Worry does a masterful job of building tension, and the reader is constantly torn between eager anticipation and dread of finding out what is happening next. There is a heightened level of anxiety that stretches throughout the entire story, which pulls the reader in and creates intense suspense.
Worry is published by Harper Perennial.