Review: Give Me Your Hand by Megan Abbott, Picador

Erich Mayer

The doings of the central characters in Give Me Your Hand make for good reading, but you would hope never to meet anyone like them in real life.
Review: Give Me Your Hand by Megan Abbott, Picador

Cover art for Give Me Your Hand via meganabbott.com.

Interestingly, all the lead characters in this novel are women. One of these is Dr Severin, the brilliant director of a research laboratory that has just won a grant to research Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD). This malady is said to affect three to eight percent of women. (There is plenty of available information on PMDD for those who want to delve deeper about this distressing disorder, but Megan Abbott's description of its symptoms is sufficient for the purposes of this novel.) Dr Severin’s brilliant young post-docs are eager to work on PMDD research, though the limited number of jobs available means that competition for these positions is fierce.

It is in this milieu that we meet protagonist, Kit Owens, who also narrates Give Me Your Hand. There is no doubt that Kit is gifted, ambitious and very hard working. Unfortunately she is also an irritating narrator who too often recounts episodes of her past before returning to the present. This is a well known and perfectly acceptable literary device, but it can be over-used, as it is here. Partly because of this, the early chapters lack pace although they do paint in the background that underpins the drama that follows.

While still a student Kit meets a fellow student, the enigmatic Diane Fleming, who is even more gifted than Kit. Diane has a terrible secret which she shares with Kit – a secret so shocking that it destroys their friendship and sours Kit's life. As a consequence Kit and Diane have an unusual love/hate relationship which persists when they meet again years later as competing researchers in Dr Severin's laboratory. 

The description of the research work carried out in Dr Severin's laboratory mentions a variety of equipment and various special areas, such as the cell-culture room and the vivarium, yet fails to be convincing, whereas the characterisation of the researchers themselves is more realistic.

This novel is correctly billed as a psychological thriller; the state of mind of each of the main characters is fundamental to the plot. What Kit feels and thinks and her speculations about Diane's thoughts and intentions are highly relevant, as is the question whether PMDD played a significant role in Diane’s past. 

The pleasure of reading a good novel is enhanced when the reader can identify with one of the leading characters, though perhaps that is asking too much of a psychological thriller. And some readers may yet identify with Kit in spite of the fact that she is not a sympathetic sort of person. Besides, a psychological thriller is meant to send shivers up your spine rather than enlist sympathy for its characters. The doings of Dr Severin, Kit and Diane make for good reading but you would hope never to meet anyone like them in real life.

Rating: 3 ½ stars ★★★☆

Give Me Your Hand
By Megan Abbott

ISBN: 9781509855711
Format: Trade Paperback
Pub Date: 31/07/2018
Category: Fiction & related items / Thriller / suspense
Imprint: Picador
Pages: 352
Price: $29.99

 
What the stars mean?
  • Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
  • Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
  • Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
  • Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
  • Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
  • Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
  • Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
  • One star: Awful, to be avoided
  • Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level

About the author

Erich Mayer is a retired company director and former organic walnut farmer. He now edits the blog humblecomment.info