Book Review: The Quiet Tenant by Clémence Michallon

FIFTY+SA Arts Reviewer, Dave Bradley, reviews the debut thriller novel, The Quiet Tenant, by Clémence Michallon.

French-American journalist-turned-author Michallon’s debut thriller is crying out for a filmic adaptation, and yes, apparently Netflix recently snapped up the rights, and is in the very earliest phase of casting.

And yet this is despite the, at heart, improbable nature of the basic plot here, something that Clémence attempts to disguise with sharp characterisations and simmering suspense. If not quite always successfully.

Aidan Thomas is a much-admired pillar of his community, and he’s quietly lusted after by Emily, who runs her family’s restaurant and fantasises at length about getting together with him. However, the unpredictable perspective changes here mean that we know full well that she’s powerfully attracted to a lifelong murderer, and a guy who’s been keeping a woman named Rachel chained up in his shed for some five years.

How exactly this was possible is quite a mystery, given that Aidan lived with his ailing wife and daughter Cecelia during those five years and, somehow, neither of them thought to check out the shed – and, indeed, Rachel never properly considered screaming for help. However, Michallon just about makes sure that we can see past this thorny problem by showing how terrified Rachel is of Aidan, and how her unhappy life before her kidnap also taught her to be silent.

Aidan’s wife eventually dies and he and Cecelia must relocate, but he doesn’t just kill the inconvenient Rachel like other self-respecting serial killers would surely have. Instead, he takes her to the new house he shares with the grieving Cecelia, tells his daughter that this strange woman is his tenant, and that he hopes she and Rachel can be friends. This seems like an impossibly silly contrivance when you put it like that, but it almost works in print, simply because Cecelia is a sad, distracted teen, and Rachel is weak, frightened and painfully desocialised. But, after some real food, a few evenings in the warm house, a (Netflix) movie or two, and cautious acceptance by Cecelia, she starts plotting, even as Aidan continually chains her to the bed in the spare room. The, ahem, same spare room that Cecelia never thinks to sneak into for a little snooping-about, something most teenagers would do without a thought. But, well, anyway…

Despite these narrative hurdles, Michallon keeps you intrigued, and wondering how exactly Rachel will make a break for freedom, or what Emily might do if she realises that she’s in love with the local Ted Bundy. And you also can’t help but ponder who exactly might be good as these characters in the forthcoming Netflix movie version: can’t you just see Jon Hamm as the menacing but so, so charming Aidan? And Emily Blunt as the blinded-by-desire Emily? And maybe Andrea Riseborough in the more challenging role of Rachel? And, while we’re at it, Djouliet Amara from TV’s The Big Door Prize would be a cool choice as Cecelia too.

And Oscar nominations all round?

Hachette Australia: Abacus, RRP $34.99

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