The Confessions by Jessie Burton

The issue of motherhood has never been easy for Rose Simmons. And now that in her thirties the question, whether she wants it or not, becomes one of those burning questions that one must answer to herself and the world, Rose is determined to begin to unravel this question at its very core.

Why did she grow up without a mother? Why did the woman who gave birth abandoned her thirty years ago? What happened to Elise Morceau?

The only person who can answer these questions is a complete stranger named Constance Holden, once a celebrated author of literary bestsellers, who retreated to anonymity at the height of fame. The woman who is Rose’s complete stranger was once very close to her mother; Elise, younger and more inexperienced than Connie, followed her even to Los Angeles, and then, a few years later, every trace of her is lost.

What was the nature of their relationship? What happened that Elise abandoned her own child and Connie never had the need to maintain a relationship with the child of the woman she allegedly loved?

Uh. Jessie, Jessie, Jessie …

Every time I see her new book arrive, I do not miss to point out that Jessie Burton is one of those authors whose books I will buy for the rest of my life unseen. I was completely overwhelmed by the “The Miniaturist”, “The Muse” convinced me that she knew how to write interesting, tense and well-researched stories, and I hardly welcomed The Confession.

After reading the third novel (in the meantime, she also wrote and published “The Restless Girls,” an updated fairy tale about twelve dancing princesses), I can say that I learned more about Jessie Burton because it becomes more apparent and noticeable from book to book – this woman adores to write difficult, emotionally complicated, and utterly frustrating female characters, whose ways of loving confuse and wound many around them.

It is already impossible for me to read Jessie’s heroines without breaking my teeth on the issues of responsibility for one’s freedom to feel what you feel and how that responsibility balances with respect to the duty (is there such a duty at all) to be completely honest with the person we love.

The love relationships in Jessie’s novels are often not the primary focus of the story, but they are always among the main causes of confusion in the heroines’ lives. Not one of Jessie’s characters who frustrates us – and I believe we are frustrated by many of her female characters because they are not made to behave “normally” –do not know how to love in the conventional way. And while this in the book “The Confessions” seems really unhealthy and manipulative at times, I can’t deny that in the context of the whole range of available love scenarios, it works, thank heavens, refreshingly.

Because “unconventional” is a term that perfectly describes all the relationships between the characters in this book, as well as their relationships to motherhood, partnership, family and career. It is already clear to me now – because one and the same thin thread runs through all of Jessie’s books – that the author, herself, in the book “The Confessions”, solves many questions about the role of the woman and the artist who occupies it.

This is not an easily digestible book; I think that those who do not like Jessie Burton as much as I do – that is, those who are more objective than me to her books – “The Confessions” might be the worst, most irritating, even the most shocking book.

With this story, Jessie does a favor to many women who are lionically struggling with many aspects of their own emancipation, but she does not do it at all extramaritally, dearly – as women have somehow come to expect. You can be revolutionary, but still make sure you stay nice to the rest of us in the process. Due to the fact that Jessie (neither her characters) agreed to this, I have to applaud her courage. It frustrates, scares, angers, causes discomfort – and thus demonstrates how strong our need is for adult women to comfort each other and to not address the Big, Important, Important Issues indirectly, but by seduction and manipulation. Jessie is not having it. If the book doesn’t “sit with you” this is probably why.

Rose Simmons feels very much all this type of discomfort when she meets Constance Holden because Rose is looking for her mother. A grown up woman seeking a mother. But maybe looking for a mother will come across a person who she needs more at this stage of life? Still, coming and staying close to Connie’s is not easy – Elise felt that thirty years earlier, and Rose would now. Her mother lacked the capacity for the distinctive character of Constance Holden. Will Rose have it? How will this relationship develop and does it contain something that both women need and do not know they need?

Just when you think you’ve lived so many lives that there is no relationship that is unfamiliar to you, it turns out that there are relationships and loves whose novelty and layering can surprise you. And that is exactly what you need right then.

Come on, I am asking you kindly, when you read this book and when you start to clearly identify where you find yourself on the continuum between “like” and “dislike”, ask yourself some additional questions – what feelings do the characters instill in you, the extent to which you recognize yourself in their reactions and actions, how would the “Lectures” sound if you can tell them to the characters, etc. Answering these questions could reveal a great deal about you.

Having proclaimed “The Confessions” the most frustrating book by Jessie Burton, I have to say that I still – can’t wait for the next one.

6 thoughts on “The Confessions by Jessie Burton”

  1. Great review, very detailed which I always love. I am not sure if it is the book for me, but if I can find it at the library (guess I will have to wait for the Dutch translation then) I will try it out. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve never read Jessie Burton before but this review has certainly got me intrigued about what her writing style is like and exactly what she does that works so well for you but doesn’t for others. The plot does imply this could be an emotionally challenging one but fantastic review, thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

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