Book review: We Were Never Here

I don’t normally venture into chic-lit, but a story set in Chile – a country I want to know more about – enticed me to read We Were Never Here by Andrea Bartz.

It starts well, with its two core characters Emily and Kristen boldly adventuring through quaint villages in the Andes. The pair have been friends since university, with Kristen now living in Australia and Emily still in the US, and meeting up each year to travel.

It’s written with Emily telling the story, and at first it achieves the perfect pitch for their friendship, capturing their emotions and thoughts in a very relatable manner. Emily is badly traumatised by an attempted rape in the past, with more details filled in as the book progresses. She defers to Kristen as the natural leader, whose strength and clear-headed confidence steered them out of trouble and helped Emily find her feet again.

Then Kristen is attacked in Chile, leaving a body to dispose of. That’s not a spoiler, because the blurb on the back of the book has already won our attention with that detail. Bartz sets the scene well then ratchets up the emotions, but the novel droops by the middle because the author doesn’t know when to rein herself in and let readers figure things out for themselves.

I’d like to see it edited down for smarter readers, so it doesn’t keep dropping clues then pointing them out repeatedly in case we missed them. Instead she over-explains and drags everything out for too long, delivering too little action and too much repetitive analysis by her self-obsessed millennium characters.

Along the way Bartz works in her anger at the dangers and daily hazards that men present to women, especially those who travel out of their comfort zone. Yet while Emily is terrified by the violence of men, and the daily abuses of general misogyny, she doesn’t see the damage her female friend is inflicting through her power play. Mid-way through my interest and sympathy levels plummeted for someone who lets themselves be so manipulated.

Assuming that the average reader is brighter than Emily, they’ll spot what’s coming long before the painfully slow process of getting there. There are a few twists along the way so it’s not entirely what you think, but that becomes almost academic as you wait for Emily to wise up and the drawn-out story to reach its conclusion.

We Were Never Here by Andrea Bartz is published by Penguin and is an Exclusive Books Recommended Read at R338.

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