I almost don’t want to give anything away about A Touch of Jen, the explosive debut novel from Beth Morgan. My advice to those who have not read it is to stop reading this review right now, avoid reading any plot descriptions, and just start reading the book.
I’ve said this before, but I’m a huge fan of how female authors are writing seemingly innocent, predictable novels, which get more and more bonkers as the plot progresses. Two recent examples of this are Silvia Moreno Garcia’s wildly popular Mexican Gothic, and You Let Me In by Camilla Bruce. I love being surprised by a wildly fantastical final act.
On the surface, A Touch of Jen is a fairly uncomplicated premise; a young couple, Remy and Alicia, lead relatively dull lives, and form an odd bond by cyberstalking one of Remy’s ex co-workers, the titular Jen. Remy seems to spend all his mental energy dissecting Jen’s every post. Surprisingly, Alicia is okay with this, even embracing it as part of their sex life.
An unexpected encounter with Jen leads to Remy and Alicia accompanying Jen, her boyfriend, and her close circle of friends on a surfing vacation. There, Alicia begins to embrace Jen’s mindset of “living in the now”, inspired by a popular self-help book called The Apple Bush. Alicia begins a slow transformation into Jen, with weird consequences.
Throughout this whole book, there is a strong feeling of unease. Uncanny encounters with a parrot, actor Jake Gyllenhaal, and strange knocking sounds, give the whole novel a sense that things are “not quite right”. And guess what? They’re not! In the last chapter of the book, things go completely nuts. If you think you can predict how things go, believe me, you cannot. Or, if you do, you either need to urgently seek professional help, or come and have a drink with me and be my new best friend.
A Touch of Jen is an audacious book. Beth Morgan absolutely nails the obsessive, voyeuristic nature of social media, and the cadence of speech of a certain sect of millennials. One character’s outrage at receiving a telephone call, rather than a text, made me laugh out loud.
But it was the last chapter of the book that really blew me away. I had absolutely no idea where things were going, I just knew that I was in the author’s capable hands. Even after finishing the book, I still don’t think I fully comprehend what went down. On the surface, it seems like a complete 180 switch, but things that happen in the final chapter are seeded extremely carefully throughout the entire novel. Morgan is an evil genius, with a deft and delirious hand.
More bonkers books, please! I’m excited to see what Beth Morgan does next.
A Touch of Jen is available right now! Big thanks to Little, Brown and Company for the ARC. You guys rock!