On the face of it, The Breakdown has all the ingredients I like to see in my psychological novel to-read pile. It was written by an author whose debut novel was excellent, and contained some good old-fashioned domestic drama and inner turmoil of the kind that always makes for an edge-of-your-seat read. So needless to say, I approached this novel with quite a lot of excitement.
What I got from it a book that gave me mixed feelings. The build-up throughout the novel was fantastic, and I genuinely did not know where the story would take the heroine, Cass- and then it plunged into a third act that had me glued to the pages until the ending. That was great! On the other side, the characters, for me, weren’t as believable as I would have liked- and that spoiled my overall enjoyment of the novel.
The Breakdown itself is about Cass, a school teacher who’s in a loving relationship with her husband, Mark. One day, she drives back home down a deserted lane in a storm, and she passes a woman sitting by the side of the road in a broken-down car. Cass drives past her, and the next day that woman is found, brutally murdered. Devastated and guilt ridden, Cass can’t help feeling that the murderer is coming for her- and her life starts to spiral out of control…
The clever thing about The Breakdown was the way in which it was written. B. A Paris doesn’t give anything away, and we, like Cass, truly don’t know what’s going on- whether the menacing phone calls she starts to receive are all part of her imagination, or whether she is going mad, like her mother before her. This does a wonderful job of ratcheting up the tension as Cass becomes more and more panicked, and like her, we’re kept in a state of constant suspense, and confusion about what’s real and what’s not. This creates a sense of claustrophobia- you almost feel that you’re trapped inside her head- as her guilt about Jane and fear of the murderer makes the everyday seem sinister. My nerves were definitely frayed by the end.
As a character, Cass is a bundle of nerves, which did make it harder for me to fully empathise with her. B. A Paris does a great job of diving into her backstory and explaining why she’s so fragile- her mother had dementia, and she’s worried about contracting it too- and when Jane’s murdered, Cass’s reaction just seems to be to shut down. She only stumbles on the twist at the end purely out of chance (though I won’t spoil it!) and at times her inability to function as she searches frantically for redemption was more frustrating than anything else. Perhaps I should work on my empathy skills. Likewise, some character beats for the people closest to her- her husband; her friends- ring slightly false to me, and require you to suspend your disbelief to truly enjoy the story, which spoiled it slightly for me. When you’re reading a book, you want to be completely absorbed by it; anything else makes you feel a little bit removed from the characters.
That said, the ending is great. It’s worth reading just for the twist at the end, and seeing how Cass deals with it! Suddenly, everything falls into place with the satisfying click of several jigsaw puzzles slotting together, and I raced through the final pages to the end. In some books, the build up is all worth it to see how things come together, and that was the case with The Breakdown. Fascinating, frustrating, and tense, this book is something that will keep you on the edge of your seat- and leave you questioning reality as it does so.
Book cover taken from Goodreads.