The Lying Room – Nicci French review by Tess Cox

Written by: Tess Cox

‘You should only choose to write if you have to’. The searing reality of what it is like
being an author in the eyes of Nicci Gerrard, an author who has successfully co-
written twenty one best-selling psychological thrillers with her husband Sean French
under the pseudonym Nicci French. Both journalists in a past life, the couple
captivated the Cadman room in the Millennium Gallery on a Saturday afternoon with
their views on gender politics currently raging in literature in 2019, crime and their
personal life.

The afternoon opened with an interesting discussion surrounding why the couple
adopted the mysterious persona of ‘Nicci French’. During their first book, ‘Memory
Game’, both Nicci and Sean touch upon the controversy of recovered memory.
Recovered memory is thought to be where in cases of patients having therapy,
namely women, vivid memories of abuse were triggered leading to convictions. This
made them feel they had to have a female narrator with the pseudonym following
suit, allowing a sense of connection between the two. This deliberate decision is
fascinating as one may feel it creates an element of female empowerment- removing
patriarchal domination over matriarchal distress. This sparked a real gender debate
surrounding the Staunch Prize, a prize drawing attention to female victims in crime to
which Nicci and Sean gave an engrossing response in that we should be aware of
the potential for despoiling women portrayed as victims but ultimately we live in a
world where bad things do happen to women. This means we cannot gloss over it
and why should we?

The main premise of this event was to discuss ‘The Lying Room’ and from the
perspective of someone who has never read Nicci French, this segment made me
want to read all their books as soon as possible. The novel opens with the
protagonist ‘Neve’ on a mundane morning in central London, something everyone
can relate to in some way. However, not everyone can relate to later finding the
person you conducted an affair with murdered, can they? This incident sparks an
unravelling of lies, potentially where ‘the Lying Room’ is coined from. This ‘domestic
noir’ novel really subverts our definition of normality and undoubtedly secures Nicci
French’s title as a stalwart of psychological thrillers, hooking readers to question their
own morals.

The idea of morals is echoed in the personal life of Nicci Gerrard and Sean French.
From their rules of editing to the integration of ‘Nicci French’ in their marriage, it is
clear to see they are a truly inspirational couple. Sean used the phrase
‘maskenfreiheit’, the idea the persona of ‘Nicci French’ gives them a sense of a mask
which allows true freedom to explore the world further together. For instance, Nicci
Gerrard touched on how her work as a journalist gave her stories she wanted to
write and ‘Nicci French’ splendidly shows how although some lives are hidden,
literature is needed to bring them to the light.

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