I received this book for free from the Bought, Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Out of Her Depth by Lizzy Barber
Published by MIRA on July 12, 2022
Genres: Fiction / Thrillers / Domestic, Fiction / Thrillers / Psychological, Fiction / Thrillers / Suspense, Fiction / Women
Format: Audiobook, eBook
Source: Bought, Publisher
Buy on Amazon
There are summers that will change your life.
There are summers that may end it.
In the lush green hills beyond Florence sits the Villa Medici—a graceful pensione surrounded by manicured gardens. Rachel, a college student from an unfashionable London suburb, can’t believe her luck in landing a summer job here. Especially when she’s drawn into a circle of privileged young sophisticates, including her glamorous coworker Diana, who promises to help Rachel win the affections of handsome, confident Sebastian.
But as champagne flows and rivalries fester in the Tuscan countryside, Rachel realizes that Diana has motivations of her own. Adrift in a world of backstabbing and bed-hopping, lavish parties and easy betrayal, Rachel feels the stakes rising along with the temperature until, one night, something snaps. Someone dies. And nothing will ever be the same…
In this atmospheric thriller set in sun-drenched Tuscany, Lizzy Barber weaves a deadly web of manipulation and desire that will keep readers enthralled until the breathtaking last page.
Unreliable narrators and toxic friendships are faves of mine, And Lizzy Barber’s OUT OF HER DEPTH have both in spades. Here’s an excerpt followed by my review of the audiobook.
Before you judge me, remember this: a girl died, but it wasn’t my fault.
I know that seems like a pathetic confessional. Even more pathetic because the confession itself has, until this point, never been uttered.
I’ve wanted to. Believe me, I’ve wanted to.
The words have formed themselves on the precipice of my tongue, palpitating with their ugly need to be heard, to make me part of the narrative. To declare to the A-level students when I see it coming up on their news feeds, languorously debating it, now, once more, as it has risen into public consciousness twenty-one years after the fact: I was there.
When they stumble in late to my lesson, less eager to talk of the trapassato prossimo than about who fucked whom at last night’s social, and whether crimped hair really is making a comeback.
I was there.
When they blink at me from faces still etched with yesterday’s makeup, reeking of the top-shelf vodka and menthol cigarettes that their house mistresses will studiously ignore.
I was there.
When they declare they “really struggled with this week’s essay” so they only have notes, and they say, “About that C on the mock exam… Did you know my parents funded the library?” and they don’t even bother to wait for the response as they pull out their laptops and glance at their watches, and they think to themselves, Boring bitch has never lived.
I was there.
I imagine each letter incubating in the saliva that pools in the side of my gums. I picture myself standing, drawing the blinds. An illicit eyebrow raise that will make them pause, look up at me anew, place their laptops on the floor as I edge toward them.
Screw Dante. Let me tell you a real story about Florence.
I am just leaving for dinner when I hear.
People talk of remembering exactly where they were when great events happened: Princess Di, the Twin Towers, Trump. I know this isn’t quite on the same scale, but I’ll remember exactly where I was, all the same.
I’ve had back-to-back lessons all day, but now, at last, I have an hour to myself, the only person left in the languages office. I spend it working on my paper “Pirandello and the Search for Truth” for the Modern Language Review, barely coming up for air. This is the part of academia I enjoy the most: the research, the pulling together of an idea, the rearranging of words and thoughts on the page until they start to take on a life of their own, form arguments, cohesion. I’m hoping that this will be the one they’ll finally agree to publish.
I am the only French and Italian teacher at Graybridge Hall,
have been for the last ten years. When they decided to introduce Italian for the younger years, as well as the older students, I did suggest that perhaps now it would be time to look at hiring someone else. But Ms. Graybridge, the eponymous head—and third of that name to have held the position—reminded me that the school’s ethos was “personal and continuous care for every girl.” Which didn’t really make sense as a rebuttal, but which I knew was shorthand for no, and which she knew—because of certain circumstances under which I assumed my position in the first place—I wouldn’t argue with.
Not that I don’t enjoy teaching. Sometimes. “shaping young minds” and all that seems like it should be a worthy cause. When I was younger, much younger, I imagined maybe I would do a PhD, become a professor. I also thought about diplomatic service, traveling the world as a translator, journalism, maybe, why not? Instead I sit through mock orals on topics as ground-breaking as Food and Eating Out, Cinema and TV, and My Family.
My rumbling stomach is the first signal I have that evening is approaching, and when I tear myself away from my laptop screen to look at the darkening sky, I decide to ditch my planned root around in the fridge, and be sociable instead. Wednesday is quiz night at the pub near school. A group of teachers go every week, the little thrill they get as their cerebral cortexes light up with a correct answer just about making up for a day spent asking the girls to kindly not look at their Apple Watches until break, and maybe not take their makeup out of their Marc Jacobs backpacks until class is over just this once.
I close down my laptop and do a brisk tidy of the room before slipping on my coat and scarf, and am just about to slide my phone into my rucksack when an alert catches my eye—specifically, a name, bouncing out of the BBC News push notification, one I have avoided all thought of for a long while, as much out of circumstance as necessity.
I freeze in the doorway—phone clutched in my hand as preciously as though it were the Rosetta stone—and look again, not quite believing I saw it right, presuming perhaps it was just wishful thinking, a long hour of screen-staring playing tricks on my eyes, that could have conjured his name before me.
But there it is. That name. Those five syllables. The six vowels and seven consonants that have held more significance for me than any word or sentence written in my entire attempted academic career.
And next to them, three words that throw my whole world off kilter, that see me reaching for the door handle and wrenching it shut, all thoughts of dinner gone from my mind:
Sebastian Hale Appeal Proceeds Tonight.
I sit at my desk, lights off, face illuminated by the white glow of my phone screen, and read someone else’s report of the story I know so well. The story I have lived. I place the phone facedown on the desk, snuffing out its light, and press my palms into the woodwork. The feel of my flesh rubbing against the desk’s smooth surface grounds me, helps me process the report—think.
I knew there had been requests for appeals over the years, all denied by the Corte d’Assise d’Appello. A change of lawyer, probably hoping that new eyes on the case could find something that was missed. But they’ve all come to nothing. How did I miss this?
If he is retried, if there is any possibility that he might be released…everything would change.
After the initial trial, after my part was done and I could finally go home and resume the life I had worked so hard to live. I tried—I really, truly tried—to put it behind me.
That was what she did, after all, and I wanted to follow her lead. I have always wanted to follow her lead. But that time has never truly left me. Sometimes, it will take the smallest thing—the light filtering through a window just so, a particular kind of humid heat, walking past a patisserie and being hit with a waft of baked vanilla sweetness—and it all comes back to me with cut-glass clarity. The sound of our laughter ricocheting off ocher-colored walls. The clink of glasses and the taste of hot weather, raw red wine. The touch of sweat-dewed skin. The scent of pine. The giddy, delightful feeling of being young and happy and having the rest of our lives spooling out in front of us.
These are the good things—the things I want to remember.
The bad things…those I have no choice but to remember.
And now, at the sight of his name alone, I am instantly transported: flying on the wings of a deep déjà vu, away from the cold late-autumn day and the dusty corners of my tired office and back, back, back to that time—that summer.
To those gold-tinged days and months that crescendoed so spectacularly into those final, onyx hours.
To the start.
OUT OF HER DEPTH just jumps right into the story, bringing up so many questions as I started to feel at home in protagonist Rachel’s skin. Jumping back and forth from present day and twenty-one years earlier, Rachel’s unsteady and often beat down persona doesn’t waver much. And while you could look at this as little character growth, Lizzy Barber writes Rachel with such depth, such astute observations on what it’s like to have so much self doubt about your own self worth that you can never be content with your life no matter what that life brought over the years.
Twenty-one years ago, Rachel leaves England for what seems like a fantastic summer opportunity before she starts at Oxford. The summer job in Florence working in an exclusive, very expensive estate-turned-hotel should give her to opportunity to immerse herself in the Italian language and get a head start on some of her schooling by going to all of the wonderful galleries. Once there, Rachel meets Diana, and the two of them are fast friends even though they couldn’t be more different. Diana doesn’t need to work since she comes from a very rich family and has never had to worry about money. She’s also outgoing and so easy to be around. Rachel has to spend her money very wisely since she comes from a middle class family near London. Rachel is shy and very naïve to the broader ways of the world. The two work easily together, but it becomes clear very early on that Diana is manipulative while being sweet, and Rachel is desperate to be a part of their world even if she has to compromise her principles sometimes just to temporarily be in their presence.
Enter Sebastian, family friend of the estate owner and there for the summer. He’s wealthy, approachable, charming–and soon Rachel is infatuated. We know from the very beginning that something goes down in Italy in the past and ultimately Sebastian is in jail since someone is dead. But the how and the why takes an entire book to reveal everything, and I really enjoyed this audiobook throughout. I bought a copy since I was in a listening mood and I’m so glad that I did. Narrator Ell Potter did a fantastic job with the different characters and accents, and her portrayal of the characters made this novel come to life even more for me.
I give OUT OF HER DEPTH a four out of five. Most of the characters in this novel are unlikable, and showing the darker side of people is so realistic that I’m positive I’ve met these people in real life. Diana’s taking advantage of Rachel’s malleable personality left ample opportunity for steering her in the wrong direction just for fun. Rachel’s low self esteem, especially when in the presence of those so much more financially fortunate than her, was often hard to hear. I really started to question how mentally sound she actually was throughout the book. This book is a slower build, especially with the time jumps, but shallow, manipulative people had me glued to the book. The ending though was a bit anticlimactic once it’s all revealed. The resolution was a bit unsatisfying. Overall, if you love books with manipulative characters and beautiful Italian scenery, then this book is for you.
Find OUT OF HER DEPTH
About Lizzy Barber
Lizzy Barber studied English at Cambridge University. Having previously dabbled in acting and film development, she has spent the last ten years as head of marketing for a restaurant group. Her first novel, A Girl Named Anna, won the Daily Mail and Random House First Novel Prize. She lives in London with her family.
Find Lizzy Barber