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  • Writer's pictureHannah Zunic

Thank My Bestie For Today's Review: A Review of In At the Deep End by Kate Davies

Hello, Book Nerds! Welcome back to Reading Has Ruined My Life or welcome if you are new. As always, my name is Hannah and I am your captain on this journey into my bookcases.

Happy second to last day of Pride!

Rainbow flag that says "happy pride."
I hope you've had a great Pride month!

How are we halfway done with this year already?! Wasn’t it just cold and snowy?

Fancy clock.
Tick Tock, time don't stop.

Enough about time being an illusion, I talk about that too much as it is. Anyway, I have a new book review for you today. A book review chosen for all of you by my best friend Amanda. I told her to pick me a gay book to read and review, and she delivered. Please welcome to the stage In At the Deep End by Kate Davies.

Book cover of In At the Deep End by Kate Davies.

I feel that I should preface this review: I am not the target audience for this novel. My perception of In At the Deep End is skewed. I am a straight woman and this book is pitched as Bridget Jones’s Diary for gay women. There’s a lot of nuance, subject matter, and slang that I did not get/pick up on. My takeaway of this book will greatly differ from that of its target audience. I just want that to be known before I get to the actual review.

Also, a spoiler alert is in order. You’ve been warned. And there is a content and trigger warning I must issue before continuing. Firstly, this is erotica. I’d say 80% of this novel is sex scenes or discussing sex. If that’s not your cup of tea then I’ll see you next week. Also be aware that this book features an abusive relationship. There is a manipulative girlfriend who gaslights the heck out of our main character and also controls her at every possible moment. If you’re jumping ship, that’s fine and I’ll see you next week. Now let’s get to the synopsis.

Bears waving.
Next week I'll be reviewing something lighter. If you're leaving, bye!

Julia is a twenty-something civil servant living in London with her best friend, Alice, and Alice’s boyfriend Dave. Our story starts with Julia lamenting to Alice about how she hasn’t had sex in three years. Julia hasn’t dated anyone in that amount of time either, and the last time she did have sex, well…it left a lot to be desired. With Alice’s advice, our protagonist goes out into the world to party, have a good time, and find a one night stand.

Julia finds that one night stand. It just so happens to be with another woman. This is when Julia’s sexual awakening begins. Turns out she was looking for love in all the wrong places; i.e. with men. Now her life has been turned upside down. She’s frequenting gay bars, attending queer swing-dancing classes, making new friends with said queer swing dancers, and meeting the woman who will become her future girlfriend.

Lesbian flag.
Shout out to all the lesbians out there!

Sam is hot, and open about her sexuality, and is kinda everything Julia wants to be. Sam is this sexy, eccentric artist who Julia falls head over heels in love with. But Sam is polyamorous which throws Julia off. She doesn’t know how to react to the idea of polyamory at first, but she and Sam do begin a relationship. And with Sam guiding her, Julia enters the world of sex clubs and BDSM.

Things are not all rainbows and toasters though, the longer Sam and Julia are together, the worse Sam becomes. Sam becomes controlling and manipulative. She basically wants to control everything Julia does and who Julia talks to. A story that begins as a woman’s sexual awakening and discovering one’s identity turns into a treacherous journey through self-discovery, toxic relationships, and learning what she’s looking for in love and life.

I want it to be known right away that I disliked all the characters in this book. Julia, we’ll start with Julia. As our main character, readers would expect her to have a personality that’s fully rounded and fleshed out. Alas that is not the case. Julia is simply a vehicle for plot advancement. She’s insecure and unsure of herself at the start of the novel and she ends just slightly less insecure and unsure of herself. Sure, there is technically a character arc, but it’s fairly miniscule. Also, she has no personality. Like, seriously, none at all. She's boring to read about at times.

Julia, girl, can you show some personality? Like just a little?

I could talk about Sam next, but I don't have much to say. She’s a manipulative piece of shit. Once again, a character completes their intended purpose. I will say this. Kate Davies paints an extremely believable toxic relationship. Everything starts out small. Sam is seemingly “perfect.” She’s this cool, sexy woman who just so happens to have an alternative lifestyle that Julia isn’t used to. Except she’s not cool. Sam is trying to control every aspect of Julia’s life, and it becomes dangerous by the end.

There is one more character I must bring up. She is a side character who I dreaded would appear more than she already did. Nicky, the therapist. Nicky is one of the worst therapists I’ve ever seen. She constantly blurs the line between being a third-party, unbiased opinion in Julia’s life and telling Julia exactly what she should be doing. Nicky is objectively a bad therapist. Even Amanda, my friend who told me to read this book and who just graduated from grad school with an Art Therapy degree, has told me Nicky sucks as a therapist. In At the Deep End would have been so much better had Nicky not been a character.

Miss Piggy banging her head on a table.
Nicky is Miss Piggy banging her head on a table worthy.

The next issue I had was just how much time was spent talking and thinking about sex. I said this book was erotica, but it technically isn’t as this novel’s intention isn’t that of sexual arousal. But the amount of sex leaves me with no choice but to call it such. For at least the first two-thirds of the novel, Julia only talks and thinks about sex. I’m honestly concerned for her. She has no other thoughts. Is this normal? I don’t read erotica. I know enough to expect sex with plot, but this ain't that. I’m highly concerned about the sex to talking/thoughts on other topics ratio.

Listen, as I’ve said, the sex in In At the Deep End isn’t included for arousal like traditional erotica. But it’s also not used to drive the plot forward or for character development. I do admit, some of the sex scenes do drive the plot forwards, some scenes have relevance, but after a certain point that all ends. By the halfway mark, the BDSM sex scenes were there just for shock value. Kate Davies makes note of nearly every kink and sexual lifestyle out there. Why? There’s absolutely no reason. It truly feels like they’re there for shock value and nothing else.

I do admit, I enjoyed this book the longer it went on. The further in I got, the less sex talk there was and the more I could learn about the characters. Also the further in I got, the more the focus shifted to the toxic relationship. That sounds horrible to say, but it’s a great reminder that toxic relationships can affect anyone and everyone regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. When the story focuses on that, it’s good. It’s relevant, it’s impactful, it’s well done. That is the story that I want to read. Sadly, I have to say that it gets overshadowed by the amount of shock value sex scenes.

With that, I must bid you all adieu. Thank you for joining me this month. Have a safe and happy last day of Pride, and I’ll see you all again next week with another great review. Also, thank you to Amanda for picking out today’s book.

Until then, stay safe, wash your hands, and read some good books for me.

Bears waving.
See y'all next week, bye!

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