Behind the Mask is Nothing
By Judy Birkbeck
Published by Holland House
Available in paperback and ebook
Judy Birkbeck's debut novel explores the potency and allure of cults which on the surface appear to be friendly groups, offering to enrich lives. Behind the Mask is Nothing is full of tightly wrapped tension where the reader can see the characters getting deeper and deeper into trouble but are helpless.
Stef is in crisis. Her teaching job is become more about paperwork and people pleasing rather than teaching children and she also suspects her husband is having an affair. Their marriage is drifting apart, having arguments over the slightest things and she is finding explicit messages on his phone from an admirer but he keeps denying the affair.
Stef is drawn into a community on a remote Exmoor estate run by the couple's counsellor with promises of fixing Stef's marriage. Here is a space where she can forget her job, the pressure to be a mother and wife, and learn to find inner peace with her troubles of that's what she thinks this community is about...
Birkbeck explores the power of manipulative communities and how they coax vulnerable people and abuse the authority, slowly controlling every aspect of their members lives. Stef's search for meaning and faith draws her more into this cult and its strange practices. I enjoyed the way that Birkbeck explores the effects of Stef's behaviour on her family, and they way they are pushed away and how the family falls apart as the cult's manipulation pushes it way through the tiny cracks in this family dynamic. Stef's life is consumed by the cult and her family are helpless on the sidelines.
A parallel story of Stef's grandmother weaves through Stef's story. She is writing her memoir about her time in Berlin when she was in the Hitler Youth group. Guilt and nostalgia make her more concerned for Stef. She can see the way the group are twisting reality and making Stef more detached yet she can also relate to the fact that Stef has found acceptance and faith.
This novel is full of paranoia, mistrust and warped realities. At times the reader is left not knowing which is reality is the truth and which one has been manipulated by the cult to draw Stef further into their clutches. Behind the Mask is Nothing is a novel that will keep twisting the tension until the end.
Behind the Mask is Nothing will be available for order from the 17th May.
I was sent a copy by the publisher.