Title: The Eighth Girl
Author: Maxine Mei-Fung Chung
Describe the book in one word: Gripping!
Star rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Publisher: Pushkin Press
Release date: 4th March 2021
One woman, many personas, but which one is telling the truth?
Alexa Wu is a brilliant yet darkly self-award young woman whose chaotic life is manipulated and controlled by a series of alternate personalities. Only three people know about their existence: her therapist Daniel, her stepmother Anna, and her enigmatic best friend Ella.
When Ella gets a job at a high-end gentleman’s club, she is gradually drawn into London’s cruel underbelly. With lives at stake, Alexa follows her friend on a daring rescue mission. Threatened and vulnerable, she will discover whether her multiple personalities are her greatest asset, or her biggest obstacle.
I was in intrigued about this book. I saw some amazing reviews on Twitter and when the author Jessica Moor said she’d only gone downstairs to open her post but ended up 50 pages in, I knew I needed to start reading. As soon as I started, I couldn’t stop. It’s not like any book I’ve ever read before in terms of the plot, characters, or topic, but you know what? I LOVED IT.
I loved the language, the descriptions, the settings, and the intricate characters. It all played out in my mind and I couldn’t put the book down, I had to know what happened to Alexa and Ella, and more about The Eighth Girl. Around half way through I had my suspicions that *something* was amiss, did I guess? No.
Alexa and her personalities that she has created in her nest are so endearing. The way Maxine Mei-Fung Chung captures each unique personality, with their own backstory, foibles, and characteristics is pure brilliance. I visualised each personality as I read, which is a testament to the brilliant descriptions and genius writing style. I wanted to be friends with Alexa and Ella, I wanted to look after them and keep them safe from what was playing out. I could imagine exactly where they were – in a previous life I worked in an office on Old Street and immediately imagined the bustle of Shoreditch.
I enjoyed the pace of the story and while I found it hard to put down all the way through, it’s was after the halfway mark I really needed to know what was coming next. You know when you put a book down to make dinner or do a mundane task but you find yourself hurrying because you’re thinking about the characters, wondering if they are okay, what is coming next, needing to know more? It’s like that.
By 80% I started to question who was who, but by 90% I had a real ‘woah!’ Moment. At 92% I think ‘no! Surely not? How can this be?’ I had to know what happened and my concern for Alexa was growing with every sentence I read. What is real? What is not? Who can tell anymore? The story became increasingly disjointed, chaotic, and fragmented, which I think is reflective of how Alexa must have been feeling. The symptoms, complexities, and issues associated with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) are clinically explained throughout the book, but what it doesn’t prepare you for is what it might actually be like to experience such a traumatic episode.
Mental health and vulnerability arguably (and unfortunately) go together hand in hand, but how often do you read a book that actually explains what this vulnerability might look like? I also think that while everyone has the potential to suffer varying degrees of mental health issues and crises, it’s very hard to imagine what another person might go through, even if we have our own experiences as reference.
The Eighth Girl raises serious questions about mental health, abuse of many kinds (sexual, addiction, toxic relationships), and what happens to the most vulnerable people in society? Who looks out for those people who fall between the cracks? Where do you go when society turns it’s back on you? Who looks after you when you have no one? They are questions that are arguably too big for me to answer here, but they’re worth a thought, aren’t they?
The title of this book review also reveals a bookish confession held within that feels like a dirty secret… I have never re-read a book. There are so many books I have read and loved, and books feel like the treasured children I will never have, but I have never reread one (that analogy sounds a bit weird now but let’s go with it 🤷🏻♀️).
However, this book cannot be read just once. It simply can’t, it was designed to be read twice (I’m sure of it) and I did not know that until I finished it. Once you know what you know, you start replaying things and seeing them differently. If I re-read The Eighth Girl (which I’m planning to do imminently) it’s going to be mind boggling – a totally different perspective.
I’ve read a lot of great books this year, but I’m going to be bold and say The Eighth Girl is quite possibly my most favourite book of the year to date. I would even go as far to say it’s going to take something really special to make me change my mind on this between now and December.