in at the deep end review

I was kindly sent In At the Deep End by Kate Davies by the publisher through Netgalley. All of my views are my own.

A fresh, funny, audacious debut novel about a Bridget Jones–like twenty-something who discovers that she may have simply been looking for love — and, ahem, pleasure — in all the wrong places (aka: from men)

Julia hasn’t had sex in three years. Her roommate has a boyfriend—and their sex noises are audible through the walls, maybe even throughout the neighborhood. Not to mention, she’s treading water in a dead-end job, her know-it-all therapist gives her advice she doesn’t ask for, and the men she is surrounded by are, to be polite, subpar. Enough is enough.

So when Julia gets invited to a warehouse party in a part of town where “trendy people who have lots of sex might go on a Friday night”—she readily accepts. Whom she meets there, however, is surprising: a conceptual artist, also a woman.
Julia’s sexual awakening begins; her new lesbian life, as she coins it, is exhilarating. She finds her tribe at queer swing dancing classes, and guided by her new lover Sam, she soon discovers London’s gay bars and BDSM clubs, and . . . the complexities of polyamory. Soon it becomes clear that Sam needs to call the shots, and Julia’s newfound liberation comes to bear a suspicious resemblance to entrapment . . .

In at the Deep End is an unforgettably frank, funny, and racy odyssey through the pitfalls and seductions we encounter on the treacherous—and more often, absurd—path to love and self.

I have…a lot of thoughts about this book. So strap in (pun 10000% intended).

In at the Deep End is about Julia, a woman who realises that she is a lesbian. The blurb is right, in some ways it is a bit like a queer, modern Bridget Jones. There’s a lot of descriptions of the awful sex she’s been having with guys. There’s a light, cheeky tone throughout a lot of the novel, and Julia’s sense of humour carries the reader through many of her terrible decisions. It is, on the whole, quite funny, and I did find myself smiling, because she is so (beautifully, awfully) relatable. I especially related to her when she was just discovering her sexuality, and trying to dress ‘more gay’, and get up-to-date on queer references. I’ve been there.

The blurb is also very correct when describing this book as racy and audacious. This book made me blush, and I am not easily embarrassed. A lot of Julia’s self-discovery comes (heh) through her sexual experiences with other women, and a lot of that is very graphically described. If threesomes/squirting/fisting/strap-ons/etc aren’t your cup of tea, this is probably not the book for you.

That’s not to say that all of the book is about sex, because it isn’t. There’s some great sub-plots about Julia’s job (a very boring civil service position) and her past as a dancer. Her friend Alice and her boyfriend play a big part in Julia’s life, and as do her new queer friends. She has a therapist who is helping with her anxiety. And of course there’s the romantic relationship side of the book, which explores falling in love with another woman – and in particular a non-monogamous woman.

So this is the part of the book that I wasn’t prepared for. Julia essentially falls in love with another woman, Sam, who is emotionally abusive. (As some of you may know, I was in an abusive relationship with a woman, so this hit pretty close to home.) And while I wish that I had been warned about that beforehand, reading it was actually really cathartic for me. The book so accurately depicted what it is like to be emotionally vulnerable and unaware that women can be abusive too. It depicted the way that Sam slowly became increasingly manipulative and abusive, and how Julia kept going back for more. And in the end, it depicted the way that Julia was able to get herself out of it. (A side-note – I don’t know if non-monogamous people would like the representation of polyamory in this book. One of the ways that Sam abuses Julia is by refusing to break up with an old partner, who Julia didn’t know about when they first started dating. While I didn’t see it as derogatory of polyamorous relationships, as there are other characters in happy non-monogamous relationships, I could see how some people would see it represented that way.)

So…I don’t know how to wrap up this review. I loved the humour and how relatable Julia is. I loved the focus on sex. I loved her character development throughout the novel. And, in a weird way, I loved the depiction of the relationship between Julia and Sam. It is something that I have never seen in a novel before, and it hit me like a freight train with its realness and rawness. This is a messy book, in many ways, with messy characters. And it meant the absolute world to me.

Trigger warnings: emotionally abusive and manipulative relationship, threats of suicide, death, graphic descriptions of sex, graphic descriptions of BDSM, homophobia (challenged), sexual assault, drug abuse, alcohol abuse

2 thoughts on “in at the deep end review

  1. Lydia Tewkesbury says:

    Wow! This was not what I was expecting at the start of the review. This book sounds so intense, but also really important. It’s so vital to read about emotional abuse, I think, because it’s something that is so hard to recognise when it’s actually happening to you – not least because a big part of it is your partner making you doubt yourself about literally everything.

    Thanks for bringing this one to my attention


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