Halfway through Natalie Daniels’ novel of grief, middle-age regret, betrayal and acid—specifically, acidic British wit—something happens that the reader can scarcely believe. Connie, the protagonist, overhears something. At first you don’t know whether she’s meant to hear it, she’s hearing it by accident or if it’s a bit of both. Whatever the cause of the inadvertent eavesdropping, what Connie learns is shocking. And it leads to a lot of bad craziness.
Daniels teases out Connie’s story bit by bit. At first, we see this humorsome and perceptive lady in a London playground with her preschool-age daughter. There, Connie meets Ness, the mother of another preschooler. The mums and their daughters quickly become the best of chums. Next thing we know, Connie—burned, battered, sliced up—is in an institution. We don’t even need to be told that one of the reasons for her predicament is Ness.
Connie isn’t the only troubled female in this novel. Her psychiatrist is Emma Robinson, whose own problems cause her to identify with her patient a bit more than she should. What happened to Emma is much too close to what almost happened to Connie. Indeed, just about all the women and girls in Daniels’ tale have something at least a little wrong with them. Connie’s daughter is strange, her mother has Alzheimer’s, and Ness seems to be at the whim of her premenopausal hormones. (The reader shouldn’t wonder why her name rhymes with “mess.”) Connie’s fellow inmate, whom she calls Mental Sita, likes to pretend she’s a dog. All the while, fathers, sons and husbands are either absent or just sort of stand around and go about their manly business. Is it the patriarchy that’s making these women sick and crazy and leaving their men so disconnected? Why don’t we need to be told that Ness is part of the reason Connie went mad? Is this how it must be? Must women’s relationships with each other always end up toxic, tormented, even deadly?
Maybe there is healing at the end, but clever, heart-shattering Too Close reminds you of the minefields you have to crawl through to get to it.