Shortlisted for the Lucy Cavendish 2020 Fiction Prize
One sweltering midsummer night, two young women forge an unlikely bond. One of them is full of hope and ambition, the other devoid of it. How can they lead good lives, they wonder? What will they give to the world? By the time the sun comes up, their futures have been rewritten and their fates decided. Captivating and involving, in turns joyful and desolate, this haunting mystery is an exploration of vicariousness, virtue and privilege.
‘In the late 1980s, two young women make a pact to pursue, in shockingly different ways, lives shorn of compromise. One is a working-class political idealist, the other a charismatic depressive, but both are the victims of their beliefs. What we have here is a well-judged, quietly alarming, fictional essay about egotism and truth-seeking, ambition and status, from an author who knows that our real motivations to do good, or to be of use, are often revealed by the actions of others. The unflashy intimate dialogue reads like a meeting between Georges Simenon and Marguerite Duras. The Watch, by Bibi Berki, is frank, shrewd and involving. It makes a wholly satisfying mystery out of our sudden attractions and slow awakenings.’ —Will Eaves
‘The sense of dread that continually rises and falls in the opening chapters is nothing short of masterful.’ —Cathie Hartigan, author of The Creative Writing Student's Handbook
‘A novel that asks how responsible we are for each other, and how much control we have over our own lives, let alone the lives of other people.’ —Margaret James, author of The Silver Locket
‘At an English University in the 1980s, an undergraduate is asked to keep an overnight suicide watch on another student, Danielle. It’s a meaningful experience for her, but our narrator is young and arrogant, with her life planned out and nothing but excitement for the future, so she can’t identify with Danielle’s dread of living another day. The years go by, she marries, has children and becomes a journalist as part of her long-term strategy to become an MP and make a difference in the world – but she’s never forgotten her night with Danielle and what passed between them. Until finally, after three decades, she gets the chance to find out the truth about her, and why their outlooks were so diametrically opposed. Berki’s novel is an absorbing exploration of the responsibilities we have for other people, and what it means to do good, which tips expectations on their heads with a surprising conclusion.’ —Alastair Mabbott, The Herald
‘In both The Neighbour and The Cavendish Gift, Bibi’s writing blends an ear for natural conversation with a talent for subtle intrigue and mystery, leading to a disturbing – and satisfying – twist in the tale.’ —Hugh Levinson