Never Mind Miss Fox by Olivia Glazebrook

An ominous tale of betrayal and past mistakes.

miss fox

Olivia Glazebrook (The Trouble with Alice) opens her second novel, Never Mind Miss Fox, by introducing her readers to Clive and Martha in their university days, at Oxford. Clive has fallen for Martha, and “realizing her worth–afraid to leave her unattended,” he’s brought her along on a family holiday to France. It is there, in a small seaside town where Clive’s family has been vacationing for decades, that the full cast of characters comes together: the new couple is joined by Clive’s younger brother, Tom, and his guest, a girl named Eliot Fox. Tom and Eliot are “just friends,” although everyone acknowledges that Tom worships her. The boys’ parents, Val and Peter, are secondary to this vivid foursome of young people, but their personalities are evoked in brief sketches.

The narrative then jumps forward in time. Clive and Martha are happily (or at least stably) married, and they adore their lonesome daughter, Eliza, who has just come home from school to announce that she has a new piano teacher, someone from her parents’ past. Eliza is happy to have found a friend in Miss Fox; but to Clive she represents something entirely different. Eliot brings with her a secret Clive has mostly forgotten after all these years, a dark secret unknown to Martha or Eliza or Tom, one that has the potential to tear apart his carefully constructed life. “Are you going to tell?” he asks her; Eliot replies, “I won’t have to.”

The chronology of Glazebrook’s haunting tale continues to alternate between the schooldays of the original four characters and their adult lives with the heartbreaking Eliza, whose world was just starting to make sense when it began to break apart. Readers will wonder at the nature of Clive’s transgression for much of the book, as the enigma is slowly revealed; then they’ll watch in horror as his family’s present hangs in the balance.

Never Mind Miss Fox is relatively brief–easily read in a single sitting–but powerful. Glazebrook draws strong characters: Martha, ambitious, and a reluctant mother; Clive, insecure and barely competent; Eliza, an affectingly awkward, intelligent child; and of course Miss Fox, mysterious, damaged, whose motives remain obscure. As the entangled players rush toward a conclusion that will change each of their lives in profound ways, the distressed marriage and mood of sinister suspense are apt to delight fans of Patricia Highsmith and all that is darkly engrossing.

This review originally ran in the July 31, 2014 issue of Shelf Awareness for the Book Trade. To subscribe, click here.

Rating: 7 cigarettes.

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