Apartment 6 by Stuart James
This book is a psychological thriller. It tells the story of Meagan, a domestic abuse victim, and Oliver, her knight in shining armour. Meagan has suffered at the hands of her husband, Rob, for years—too frightened to leave and too scared to stay. One day, after a savage beating from her husband, Meagan meets Oliver on her train journey home from work. Oliver is instantly attracted to her (of course he is) and the pair start up a burgeoning friendship. Meagan soon realises that Oliver is one of the good guys and starts to fall for the handsome stranger. Oliver tries to convince Meagan to leave her husband after she discloses the litany of abuse she has suffered. Oliver will do just about anything to save Meagan. But does she ask too much?
The book is easy to read and moves at a steady pace. The actual plot is reminiscent of the Patricia Highsmith novel Strangers on a Train, but there are no similarities in the quality of the writing.
The story centres on two abusive relationships: Meagan and her mother’s. James uses flashbacks to tell the mother’s story interspersed with the present-day story of Meagan. Domestic abuse is an extremely sensitive and difficult subject to write about and, unfortunately, James fails here. Through his writing, he gives the impression that most women are asking for it, or that they’d be okay if they did as they were told. I am not saying this is actually how the writer feels, because he might not, but it comes across that way. The characters are worse than two-dimensional and thoroughly unlikeable. Oliver is portrayed as a weak-willed man who only thinks with his genitalia and will do anything to have sex with Meagan—a woman suffering horrific abuse who reached out to him for help. And he’s meant to be one of the good guys! Maybe if he used his brain rather than his penis, he might have noticed the glaring inconsistencies in Meagan’s character or how grossly inappropriate his behaviour is.
James writes that Meagan is under Rob’s total control: she’s not allowed out, she’s always at his beck and call. But she has the confidence to approach a complete stranger, stay out late all the while saying she’s too frightened to leave, and keep a secret phone in her underwear drawer for emergencies (which the author forgets is secret halfway through and she uses this to text and call Oliver). Meagan starts to control Oliver with the promise of a future relationship including sex. When Meagan eventually asks Oliver to kill her husband, he seems to have a discussion with his genitals. I do understand that men have killed for this reason throughout history, but it is a very outdated view that many men have actively strived to change.
As for the abusive husband, I think he came out of a 1950s gangster film. He runs a nightclub, generally spends most of his nights there, having sex with all and sundry, and working on his drug abuse. He is obnoxious, and again, two-dimensional. The abuse is written as if the author looked up things that abusive husbands do and stopped there. It is so unbelievable, and it almost comes across as if Meagan deserves it! This is the same with the account of the mother’s abuse, too.
The worst part is the two descriptions of sexual encounters: one with Rob and the other with Oliver. One is supposed to be abusive and clearly rape, while the other is apparently passionate and loving, yet the descriptions are almost identical. It lends the view that the author has a warped sense of what abuse actually is.
The twists in the story are so clearly telegraphed that my grandson could see them coming and he’s two. There is nothing new in this novel; in fact, it takes the representation of men back at least thirty years.
Needless to say I would not recommend this book to anyone as I feel it does a disservice to abused women. It belittles and, in places, I found it to be quite offensive. I will not be buying anything else by this author.
© 2020 Cassidy Cassandra
Available under the Thanet Writers Education Policy
Cassidy grew up in Thanet and lives here with her family.