Life, death and yoga with Jessica Grose's Soulmates


Soulmates by Jessica Grose (William Morrow, 16.99) is the kind of book that some critics might automatically write off as chick lit, while others might assume it is yet another entry into the rather tired female-led-thriller catalogue spawned by Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train.

That would be a pity, because Jessica Grose’s sophomore novel is far superior to the vacuous titles of the former genre and, while ostensibly a murder mystery, by no means typical of the latter.

Instead, it’s a funny and quirky piece of fiction that manages to send up a contemporary world obsessed by yoga, clean eating and spiritual improvement, and also interrogates the challenges of marital breakdown.

When we meet Dana, a half-Jewish (and very New York Jewish), high-flying lawyer, she is coming to terms with the death of her estranged husband, in an apparent murder or suicide covered by the New York tabloids with the headline “Nama-Slay: Yoga Couple Found Dead in New Mexico Cave”.

Convinced Ethan couldn’t have killed, Dana heads to the yoga retreat he called home to find some answers — despite her cynicism about this sort of “spiritual claptrap” — and in doing so, learns more about why their relationship did not endure despite its early promise. “In the years after he left, I had forgotten a lot of the memories that made me look bad,” Dana concludes, after reading Ethan’s diary about their break-up (a rather convenient plot device). “Our memories have their own agendas.”

The central mystery, which involves a cult leader and flashbacks to a hippy–era San Francisco commune, is engaging but hardly new territory, especially following Emma Cline’s recent novel The Girls, which trod a similar path with a fictional retelling of the Manson cult murders.

But Dana, sharp and sceptical yet clearly searching for closure, is a compelling, fully realised heroine; her story carries the book along.

The one damp note, for me, is the ending; this is not chick lit, so there are no happy-ever-afters, yet I wanted better for Dana.

Grose, a former Slate journalist who now edits Lena Dunham’s newsletter, Lenny, peppers the novel with contemporary pop culture references; it’s a very “now” book (her debut cast a pointed eye at the world of blogging).

It won’t be to everyone’s tastes, but for those with a penchant for light fiction and who want a change from the tired plot-lines involving dark, damaged and wronged women  - and something more than a a frothy boy-meets-girl tale, it's a treat

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