|She Came to Stay / Eleni Kyriacou|
London: Hodder & Stoughton, c2020.
I first noted this book in my Cover Designs series, and have been meaning to read it ever since. I finally got my hands on a copy and found that it's a great summer read.
Dina Demetriou has come to London to live with her brother, after being rejected by her fiancé in her Cyprus hometown. She's ready to make a new life but her brother is very protective and controlling, and it's driving her mad. He's also a gambler, so any hope they have of saving enough to leave the moldy bedsit that they share is a tenuous one -- Peter can't hold on to any cash at all.
He's found her a job at a local café, where she makes a friend of a fellow waitress, and manages to secrete some cash slowly. Then she finds an opening for a seamstress at the Pelican Revue; the nightclub needs someone to help sew and mend costumes for the performers. Dina is a great seamstress and passionate about it, so she applies and gets the job -- but doesn't tell Peter. There is a bit of sewing content here, and some scenes with Dina analyzing dresses in Vogue, but the sewing isn't that huge of an element -- too bad for me!
At the Pelican, she meets Bebba, a blonde, confident fellow Cypriot, who takes her around Soho and introduces her to a life she wasn't aware of. She is enjoying having a new friend but this friend has secrets...ones that will threaten everything.
This is Kyriacou's first novel, and it does show in parts. There is a love interest for Dina who shows up about halfway through, and I had to turn back a few pages to see if I'd missed something when he just appeared out of nowhere and seemed to be accepted by the others at the café as a regular. It's clear that there's something a little off about him and I was waiting for the other shoe to drop for a while, but did figure out the plot twist a couple of chapters ahead.
Bebba is so charming in the beginning, but becomes more and more nasty and selfish as the book goes on and she reveals her true obsession -- not friendship, but money. Her back story of her life in Cyprus makes you feel sorry for her, but it's also the cause of all the drama (melodrama?) that follows her. When she sees the opportunity that Peter offers, she grabs hold. He is easily influenced, will fight for her, and is connected to the London underworld via his gambling habit. The two of them together become a bad mix that eggs on the worst in both. Dina can see it happening but is powerless to stop them or change her own circumstances, at least for a while.
The chapters move back and forth between Dina's point of view and Bebba's, alternating more frequently the further you get into the book. This allows information to be shared with the reader but not the other characters, and also shows the varied perceptions of one another as they get more enmeshed in their situation. I think this element worked well and added to the suspense and characterization in the book. The writing itself was pretty good (Kyriacou is a journalist; this is her first novel) and adds to the tension in the book.
Unfortunately I did find that there were some easily guessed at elements, and some plot devices that seemed obvious and easy choices; if they'd been avoided this might have been a stronger story. However, it was an entertaining read with an unusual concept and lots of ups and downs to keep you reading.