This chilling psychological suspense novel—think Strangers on a Train for the modern age—explores the dark side of love and the unbreakable ties that bind two sisters together.
Felix and Tilda seem like the perfect couple: young and in love, a financier and a beautiful up-and-coming starlet. But behind their flawless façade, not everything is as it seems.
Callie, Tilda’s unassuming twin, has watched her sister visibly shrink under Felix’s domineering love. She has looked on silently as Tilda stopped working, nearly stopped eating, and turned into a neat freak, with mugs wrapped in Saran Wrap and suspicious syringes hidden in the bathroom trash. She knows about Felix’s uncontrollable rages, and has seen the bruises on the white skin of her sister’s arms.
Worried about the psychological hold that Felix seems to have over Tilda, Callie joins an Internet support group for victims of abuse and their friends. However, things spiral out of control and she starts to doubt her own judgment when one of her new acquaintances is killed by an abusive man. And then suddenly Felix dies—or was he murdered?
A page-turning work of suspense that announces a stunning new voice in fiction, White Bodies will change the way you think about obsession, love, and the violence we inflict on one another—and ourselves.
|Product dimensions:||6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.10(d)|
About the Author
Jane Robins began her career as a journalist with The Economist, The Independent, and the BBC. She has made a specialty of writing historical true crime and has a particular interest in the history of forensics. She has published three books of nonfiction in the UK, Rebel Queen (Simon & Schuster, 2006), The Magnificent Spilsbury (John Murray, 2010), and The Curious Habits of Doctor Adams (John Murray, 2013). More recently, she has been a Fellow at the Royal Literary Fund.
Read an Excerpt
The he evidence suggests that Felix showered. Beyond that, I know practically nothing about his final hours on this earth. All I have is the odd scrap of information and the patchy impressions of the bystanders, and it’s like I’m at the theater, looking at the stage and seeing only the supporting cast, the scenery and the arrangement of shadows. All the important elements are missing. There are no principal actors, no stage directions and no script.
The receptionist said this—that Felix’s last morning was fresh and cold, that there was a frost on the lawn outside the hotel and a mist in the distance, where the woods are. She’d watched Felix sprinting out of the hotel, down the gravel drive, then turning left at the gate. “I was arriving for work and I called out ‘good morning!’ ” she said. “But he didn’t reply; he just kept running.”
Forty minutes later, he was back, dropping his head to catch his breath, panting and sweating. He straightened up and, now noticing the receptionist, said that he’d sprinted all the way to the golf course, running the perimeter and the long path through the woods back to the hotel. He thought that the sun glancing through the trees had been magical, as though life was just beginning (how extraordinary that he should say such a thing!). Then he took the stairs up to his room, two at a time.
He didn’t come down to breakfast or order anything to be sent up, not even the continental breakfast that was included in the room rate. His colleague, Julio, said he was surprised when Felix failed to attend the first session of the conference. At the midmorning break, Julio carried a cup of coffee and a biscuit up to the room, but found the DO NOT DISTURB sign hanging on the door. He thought Felix was unwell, sleeping maybe, so he drank the coffee himself and ate the biscuit. “We missed him at lunch,” he said, “and again in the afternoon session. By three o’clock I was calling his phone many times, but my calls went to voice mail.” Julio felt uneasy. It was so unlike Felix to be unreliable; so he went upstairs one more time to hammer on the door, then he summoned the hotel manager, who arrived with a key.
The two men were struck by the unnatural stillness of the room, its air of unreality; Julio said it seemed considered, or planned, like a tableau vivant with Felix as the centerpiece, lying on his back on the bed in a strange balletic pose, right arm cast out across the duvet, left leg bent, bathrobe open like a cape, gray eyes gazing at the ceiling. His left arm was dangling down the side of the bed, fingers suspended above the floor, and the hotel manager, who had a degree in the history of art, was reminded of the Pre- Raphaelite painting of the suicide of Thomas Chatterton. Except this didn’t look like suicide, there were no pill bottles or razor blades or other signs.
Dr. Patel arrived, and the receptionist stood by the door while the doctor conducted her examination. Her professional opin-ion was that Felix had suffered a heart attack or had some sort of seizure after his morning run. She left, and the receptionist took photographs of Felix and of the room—the bedside table, the pristine bathroom, the opened shower door, the view from the window and, finally, the untouched hospitality tray. “I know that was weird,” she said. “But it felt like the right thing to do, to make a record.” Maybe she thought her photos might become important, that they’d suggest that something about the scene was wrong. No one else had that sense, though. When the results of the postmortem came through, they were in agreement with Dr. Patel—Felix’s death was due to heart disease.
As simple as that, he had collapsed and was gone—and for a while it seemed that he’d simply vanished. The world had swept over him like the tide coming in.
But then the funeral happened. I trekked out of London that day to a pretty Berkshire village with a Norman church sitting amongst gravestones and windblown copper-colored leaves. When I saw it, I thought that Felix, who was born and raised in America, was having a very English final moment, though the mourners who were arriving in small solemn groups were from his international life. Solid men in sharply cut suits; flimsy, elegant women in heels. I watched them from a distance, in fact from a broken bench set against the churchyard wall, where I was trying to calm down. Eventually, I slipped into the church and stood at the back.
My sister, Tilda, was the person on show, and she walked slowly up the aisle like a melancholy bride. I tried hard, really hard, to get inside her head at that moment, and I conjured up a spectacular array of emotions—from profound grief and loss, to exhilarating release and relief. But nothing felt right. As always, I found her confusing, and I was reduced to noticing her expensive clothes. The black silk dress, the tailored jacket, doubtless costing a thousand pounds or more. And I watched her take a place in the empty front pew. On her right, in front of the altar, was Felix’s coffin, under a cascade of white lilies; and to her left, on a wooden stand, a giant photo of his smiling face. A few minutes later, Felix’s mother and father slipped in beside Tilda, and then his brother, Lucas. There was the slightest of nods towards my sister, who sat perfectly still, gazing at the floor.
The first hymn was a thin rendition of “The Lord Is My Shepherd”—but I found that I couldn’t sing. Instead I slumped against the back wall, feeling faint and nauseous, overwhelmed by the occasion. Not that I was mourning Felix, although the sight of his hunched-up, grieving family was upsetting. It was more that I was sick with knowing too much. On the day of his death, I’d waited for the police to turn up at my flat or at the bookshop. It was the same on the morning of the postmortem. And now, at the funeral, it seemed certain that police officers were waiting for me outside the church, stamping their feet to keep warm, sneaking an illicit cigarette, and that as soon as I stepped out of the gloom into the autumn sun I would hear my name. Callie Farrow? Do you have a minute?
Reading Group Guide
This reading group guide for White Bodies includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Jane Robins. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
White Bodies follows Callie, a young woman who works in a bookstore, as she watches her glamorous, talented twin sister, Tilda, visibly shrink and diminish under the domineering love of her new boyfriend. Callie, unassuming, but with sharp observational skills, acts as Tilda’s mirror.
So when the flawless façade on Tilda and boyfriend Felix’s relationship starts to crack, Callie start to think everything is not as it seems. Felix and Tilda seem like the perfect couple on the outside: young and in love, a financier and a beautiful up-and-coming starlet. But Callie watches silently as Tilda stopped working, nearly stopped eating, and turned into a neat freak, with mugs wrapped in Saran Wrap and ominous syringes in the bathroom trash.
But when she learns about Felix’s uncontrollable rages and the bruises on the white skin of her sister’s arms, Callie is so worried that she joins an internet support group – controllingmen.com – for the victims and families of women enduring abuse from their partners. However, things spiral out of control and she starts to question herself and all those around her when one of her new acquaintances is killed by an abusive man.
And then suddenly Felix dies—or was he murdered?
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. We all watch the world around us, but some, like Callie, may watch it more closely than others. What do you think accounts for this nosey, sometimes obsessive behavior in Callie?
2. What was your first impression of Felix? If you had observed the same things that Callie had as she was first exposed to Tilda and Felix’s relationship, how would you have reacted?
3. Is Callie a reliable narrator? How do you know?
4. How are Callie and Tilda’s physical differences reflected in their personalities and the roles they each play in their relationship with one another? How does this evolve over the course of the novel?
5. Do you think Callie is jealous of Tilda? Why or why not? Consider Tilda’s previous relationships and Callie’s actions toward each of Tilda’s partners.
6. After the first confrontation about Felix, Callie writes in her dossier: "When I talk to her, I make everything worse. I drive her to HIM" (p. 41). What might you have done differently in Callie's shoes?
7. How do Wilf and Daphne start to change Callie's perception of herself? How does her image of herself change in relationship to Tilda throughout the novel?
8. Callie claims that she must watch over Tilda; Tilda claims that she must protect and care for Callie. Which twin is really taking care of the other?
9. How is obsession portrayed throughout the novel? Consider how it affects Callie, Tilda, and Scarlet, in particular.
10. What role does Liam play in Callie’s understanding of Tilda? What roles do Callie and Tilda’s mother play?
11. How does Callie's outlook change as she gets deeper into the controllingmen.com forums? How do her relationships with Belle and Scarlet influence her?
12. How did you react to Scarlet’s true identity? Why do you think Callie agrees to meet Scarlet in person?
13. Does Callie get her happy ending? Does Tilda?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Keep a dossier for a week of your daily observations, just for fun, and see what you might be missing on a regular basis! Practice your powers of observation at a local park, restaurant, coffee shop, etc., or take notes on an interaction with a friend, co-worker, or family member.
2. Watch Strangers on a Train and Single White Female, and discuss with your book club. What similarities do you see to White Bodies? Which film reminds you most of Callie? Which reminds you most of Tilda? Why? Do you think they would see themselves that way?
3. “I’m reading for my close-up, Mr. Hitchcock!” Who would you cast in the film version of White Bodies? Share your ideal picks for Callie, Tilda, Felix, Wilf, Belle, Scarlet, and more, with your book club.
A Conversation with Jane Robins
What was your inspiration for White Bodies?
My biggest inspiration was Alfred Hitchcock. I wanted to write a thriller that had a highly personal, thoughtful element to it—which, in turn, infused the novel with tension and an almost claustrophobic atmosphere. For most of the novel the reader is stuck inside Callie’s head – which is not an easy place to be. Hitchcock was brilliant at creating that intense point of view. When I’m writing, I think visually, as though I’m writing a scene for a movie. I was also inspired by Patricia Highsmith and Daphne du Maurier, whose work I adore.
How did your work as a journalist and as an author of historical true crime books prepare inform or inspire you as a writer of fiction?
I don’t think I could have written a novel when I was younger, as fiction is the most difficult sort of writing for me—although I love it the best! I needed to learn the craft of writing and editing first. Journalism taught me to get to the point quickly, to delete everything that’s unnecessary no matter how proud you are of your prose, and to be careful with adjectives and metaphors—only use them if they are spot on. Writing historical books taught me how to structure a long-form narrative and how to build to an ending. A first or second draft is never good enough. I re-write everything countless times.
Were you more of an observer as a kid, like Callie? Or a performer, like Tilda? Did you ever have a dossier like Callie?
I was more like Callie, but I wanted to be more like Tilda. So perhaps my childhood was the greatest inspiration for the novel! When Callie walks around the playground at school, observing the children playing, she’s me. I have a strong memory of being about ten years old and auditioning for the lead in the school play, and I noticed two of the teachers exchange a giggling glance. I suddenly realized I was over-acting terribly. I also thought I was too plain to be the lead, so I ended up playing a sunbeam. Tilda would have won the part instead.
Do you have any siblings? Did they, or anyone else, influence the way you envisioned Callie and Tilda's relationship?
I have a brother and a sister. My sister Carol and I are close in age, just 18 months apart. I have experienced the intense bond of the sister-sister relationship and I dedicated the book to her. We actually get along brilliantly and are entirely on the same wavelength, but I do remember as I child that I thought of her as ‘the pretty’ one—more popular and social. So I tapped into that, although it was never a big part of my life as I had many other things going on! I became the rebellious one.
How did you approach writing Callie and Tilda’s dynamic as twins differently than you would have written a non-twin sister pair?
My sister, Carol, has fraternal boy-girl twins who are in their early twenties. They are very different personalities, yet they share an extraordinary bond and understand each other at a deep level. So I have observed the twins relationship and find it interesting. But what I liked most the symbolism of Callie and Tilda being twins is that it’s like all their characteristics were formed in the same womb and were just divided up in a fortuitous way. Somehow, they are two sides of one extreme person.
What do you want readers to take away from the complexity of Tilda and Felix’s relationship?
I really liked Felix, and felt sorry for him. As I was writing his character, I kept thinking how misunderstood he was just because he was odd. In my head, he wasn’t nearly as bad as Lucas made him out to be, let alone Tilda. I gave the readers a glimpse into his true character when he takes Callie to dinner at The Wolseley and she starts to doubt her assumptions about him. At the same time, I was also writing a co-dependent relationship that was invented by Tilda, but had psychological integrity. The notion of being ‘excited’ by violent extremes and by ‘proving’ you’re alive by feeling pain is very dark, but something I can relate to.
Are you interested in classic films as Tilda and Callie are? Besides Strangers on a Train, have other films influenced your writing?
I’m not a classic film nut, but like films that are gripping because of the psychology of the characters and their interactions. I adore Single White Female and Rebecca, both of which I mentioned in White Bodies, and inspired my novel. And I wrote Callie loving the Winona Ryder version of Little Women because it’s one of my favorite films, and as a child, like so many others, I desperately wanted to be Jo March.
What interests you about the anonymity of the Internet? What inspired you to bring this classic Strangers on a Train set-up into the modern era?
I happened to watch Strangers on a Train at home, and it occurred to me that it would be so much easier to swap murders these days if you did it online. I had been thinking about the line ‘the internet is where psychos find each other’ long before I watched the film, or dreamed up White Bodies and put the words into Tilda’s mouth. Apart from being a good starting point for my novel, it is also a real world worry that makes me anxious. It’s how people with a propensity for violence discover each other; it’s how internet groups build into abusive mobs.
Has anything surprised you about the process of writing fiction, vs. non-fiction?
Only how much I love it! I thought that I was happier writing thoughtful prose when I didn’t have to invent the facts as well, but it turns out that I do enjoy making stuff up! I used to think I was no good at it. Now I think that it is my (wonderful) job to transform my first drafts into something better.
What are you working on next?
I’m writing my next psychological thriller. It’s about five students at an intense writing workshop in a very beautiful, remote place—and things start to get very strange in the group. Like White Bodies, it has British and American characters, as well as some from other parts of the world.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
First thought after reading the book: She's getting away with it? She’s getting away with it! Second thought: How could you? I’m no expert on twin behavior but this? Giving me the creeps, and I mean both of the girls, Tilda and Callie. Both of them need psychological help. Right from the start I started to wonder who was telling the truth and which one of the girls was the liar. I flew through the book, turning the pages not able to stop reading. The suspense building with every chapter made this book a real joy to read and I liked it a lot. The ending though.... Not a fan of it. Would have loved the one responsible for all the crimes to be held accountable. But besides that, “White Bodies” is a thriller I can recommend to everyone. I chose to read this book and all opinions in this review are my own and completely unbiased. Thanks to NetGalley and HQ!
OMGOSH......WHAT A CRAZY GOOD READ! WHITE BODIES is a roller coaster of CRAZY. Twin sisters Tilda and Callie are so very close....one with a CRAZY obsessive behavior I have never read about in any novel....a behavior I still cannot believe....and the other with a CRAZY dark agenda I did not see coming. So.....ENTER dangerous, controlling man who pulls Tilda away from Callie and together with his impulsive aggressive behavior, the plot thickens to a place you may think sounds familiar, but in fact ends in the ultimate of CRAZY mind games! Don't miss this one!
Menacing, dark, and incredibly eerie! White Bodies is a gritty, gripping, character-driven novel that delves into the dynamic relationship between sister’s, especially twins, and highlights that we only see what people want to show us and even then we only see what we want to see. The writing is fluid and clear. The characters are multilayered, deceptive, and unstable. And the plot uses a past/present, back-and-forth style to create suspense and tension as it subtly unravels the relationships, histories, personalities, and motivations within it. White Bodies is ultimately a chilling psychological thriller about family, secrets, obsession, jealousy, mental illness, manipulation, obsession, and murder and is a wonderful debut for Robins in this genre.
Started out a little slow, but for the most part this book had me captivated; I couldn't stop flipping the pages of this book! The build-up for the plot was nice, the character development was very interesting too. The plot twists definitely caught me off guard. Highly recommended!
There's no better way to describe this book than dark, twisted, and creepy. I actually physically cringed while reading more than a few times. I read a lot of dark stories, and it's rare for me to have that reaction. Don't get me wrong: this story isn't graphic at all. The disturbing parts are more psychological. Just shy of 300 pages, it's easy to devour in a day... and if you have time, you probably will. I could hardly put it down. Suspense, twins, abuse, jealousy... it sounds like several books I've read recently, and if you enjoy psychological thrillers like I do, it probably sounds familiar to you too... but trust me, this one is different. Tilda and Callie have always had a bit of an odd relationship. Tilda is beautiful, has a flair for the dramatic, blessed with confidence. She's the actress that despite not putting out new work in awhile, gets recognized on the street. Callie is the sister who blends in. She works at a bookshop, doesn't have a love life to speak of, and has a hard time making new friends. She's very different from her charming, enigmatic sister. Tilda begins to change when she starts seeing a new man, Felix. He's well off and charming, but comes off as a little controlling. Tilda doesn't seem to see any of that. She's deeply in love. Callie is alarmed when her larger than life sister begins to shrink before her very eyes... she's always been slim, but now she borders on skeletal. She's lost her spark. She is drifting away from her sister, seemingly content to spend all of her time with Felix. And then there's those bruises on her arms. Whenever Callie tries to broach the subject, Tilda becomes angry and defensive, as if her concern is a personal insult. We get flashbacks into their childhood, where it becomes obvious that Callie has always had a bit of an obsession with her sister. She always wanted to watch out for her, know what she was up to, figure out weird little things to do that reaffirms their bond in her head. Her concern for her now reaches a boiling point. She joins a website for women affected by abuse, at first just to see if she's reading the signs correctly. It's not long before she jumps into the site head first, registering and making new anonymous friends. Some are women who are being abused and see no way out, and some like Callie are watching from the sidelines as a loved one suffers at the hands of a man. Their lives spin more and more out of control... jealousy and death, and an ending that you won't forget. I found this book to very unsettling and highly original. Recommended to readers who don't mind getting their head messed with a bit. I received an ARC of this book from Net Galley and Touchstone, thank you! My review is honest and unbiased.