Consent is a contemporary novel by Canadian author Annabel Lyon. It follows two sets of sisters, where one sister is reliant on the other. It was published by Atlantic Books on the 28th of January 2021 and was on the Women’s Prize for Fiction Longlist 2021.
You can deny it all you like but, everyone judges books by their covers. Take this cover, and pair it with a title like Consent, and you get a strong impression of the context of this book. Even after reading the blurb, I was convinced that the story would follow two women, both with a sister, who are the victims of sexual assault, and the aftermath of that. However, that is not quite what this book is about. Does the book discuss sexual consent? Yes, but not necessarily in the way you expect given the cover. Why am I telling you this? Simply because I think that the marketing of the book is a little off. I find the combination of the title and the cover misleading, and that does a disservice to the story that is being told. The question of consent and more specifically sexual consent is tied to two of the sisters, as you would expect. One of the sisters is injured in an accident, while the other has an unspecified learning disability. The book, therefore, is trying to probe the relationship between content and mental capacity.
In terms of plot, the book is like putting a pan of water to boil, you wait and wait, and then suddenly you start to see bubbles. Before you know it the pan is boiling over, and that is how this plot felt. The first two-thirds felt slow and steady as it built up the storyline of both sets of sisters, but as things started happing it got quicker and quicker until it descended into thriller tropes. I am not a big thriller reader, but the thriller elements had a familiarity to them which did not help the book to stand out. This descent detracted from any bigger message regarding consent that the books as trying to convey because it suddenly seemed to be reliant on the shock value of the events. As you might imagine the pacing felt very strange because it had no rhyme or reason to it. By the end of the book, the characters that the author had spent so much time crafting did not feel like the characters you knew.
As a writer, it was clear that Annabel Lyon is talented. The first couple of chapters have stayed with me since I first read this a couple of weeks ago. I adored the fashion element, which is concerned primarily with a dress that is shrouded in tragedy. The way this was written was fantastic. Lyon’s language seemed to always hint at the decay that hides behind beautiful things. That is something I want to read about. It felt fresh, and compelling, and reminded me of the memento mori you tend to see in fine art. It is like a fresh take on memento mori, the characters steps constantly being dogged by death, and was fascinating to read. Unfortunately, every time I felt this way the author would swerve away and focus on something else. I am more than happy to admit that this is a very personal observation, but it is how I felt. It made for a very frustrating reading experience. I think that it also meant that the book felt disjointed because the nuance in her writing was not consistent. This became more evident as the plot steered more and more towards the thriller elements.
As I’ve already mentioned the story follows two sets of sisters, Sara and Matty, and Saskia and Jenny. The perspective is from one half of the sets, the more responsible sisters, Sara, and Saskia. As characters, all four of the sisters were interesting to read about, and Lyon did a great job at keeping, not only the perspectives but all the characters nice and distinct. As the story begins with Sarah and Matty and takes a long time to introduce the other two, I did feel slightly more invested in their story. Saskia and Sara have their personality traits, but none more so distinct than their roles as sisters. However, there is not as much evidence of the sisterly bond as you might expect, particularly in the case of Saskia.
Overall, I gave Consent THREE out of a possible five-star rating. I think that it’s a good book, and it kept me entertained throughout, but every time I was interested in one thing it would look at something else. I think that there was a lot more that could have been done with this book and its themes, so it ended up feeling a little flat to me.
Consent is available to purchase from all the usual places. Don’t forget to support your independent bookshops and libraries where possible.