You Can Stay by Elle Connel

Today I am sharing my thoughts on You Can Stay, the brand new novel from Elle Connel. My thanks to the publisher Wildfire for the advance copy for review. Here’s what it’s all about:

Source: Netgalley
Release Date: 15 September 2022
Publisher: Wildfire

About the Book

She’s the perfect host. He’s the perfect victim.

Someone is hunting Connor. Alone, freezing, in the wilderness of Bodmin Moor, on an elite Special Forces training exercise, he’d be a fool to scorn the kindness of a local stranger. Wouldn’t he?

At first, Eilidh seems to be an impeccable host. She offers Connor food and a warm bed – he finds it nearly impossible to leave her charming farmhouse.

But the choice isn’t his to make.

There have been others before. None, though, as perfect as him.

Why would she let him leave?

My Thoughts

Well I can honestly say that this book was not what I was expecting. A team of want-to-be special forces recruits set off on the final stage of their assessment. Two are quickly caught, two manage to evade capture, only to find themselves subject to a far worse form of torture than they would have faced at the hands of the recruiters. This is a story in which the interpretation of affection takes a very dark turn and in which, from the outset, carries a very sinister and unexpected edge.

There are echoes of another, rather well known novel and movie adaptation within these pages, and the author does acknowledge that influence on her writing. Perhaps because of that, and the fact that the author in question was one of the biggest influences over my reading habits as a teenager, I’m not sure that I ever fully settled into You Can Stay as I found myself drawing regular comparisons between the two, perhaps a touch unfairly. This is a unique story, an enhanced take on a classic and with some very unexpected twists and turns, but I think the similarities were just too strong to ignore.

There is a lot of tension in the book, moments when the author takes us right to the edge of our seats and makes us wonder just how far the tormentor in this story is prepared to go. We are soon to learn that this is really quite far and that they will stop at nothing to get what they want – in this case the love and company of others, even if they are less than enthused by the prospect themselves. Characters are caught between enforced imprisonment and Stockholm syndrome and it makes them all somewhat unpredictable which in turn elevates the tension.

Speaking of the characters, I’ll be honest – I didn’t much care for any of them. There is clearly something very unbalanced about Eilidh, a kind of instability that is slowly revealed in a way that makes us question how much is deliberate and how much an accident. Connor is someone I felt initial sympathy toward but his actions later in the book soon changed my opinions. Do I think he deserved his fate – perhaps not. Do I think he’d have passed selection? Not if the Navy had their wits about them … As for the third character in the mix, you need to read the book to understand her place in the story and then decide for yourselves if she deserves sympathy. If I were to feel anything for any of the characters, she is the closest I came to it when her own story was finally revealed.

You do need suspend disbelief a touch when reading this book as it is hard to believe that two highly trained, highly skilled soldiers much come unstuck in such a way. This is the one way in which the stories – You Can Stay and it’s inspiration – differ, and I’ll be honest, the original is more plausible. But when you get into the heart of the story, events that came to pass had my reactions ranging from incredulous to angry to a touch nauseous and everything in between. The author doesn’t away from some very definite descriptions of what is going on, some scenes which may offend the prudish of nature, but there is nothing I would call particularly graphic.

It just all comes down to story. If I had been more attached to the characters I might have overlooked the implausibility of what came to pass or the nature of the ending which I know will polarise readers. There is no doubting the authors talent for writing and creating atmosphere and tension – the descriptions of the wild and remote nature of Bodmin really made the scenes live so vividly I can almost feel the dew that comes from the morning mists.

It comes back to that believability angle which has me sitting somewhat uncomfortably on the fence. Or may be that should be a short stone wall … Would it put me off reading the author again? No. The story kept me engaged even when it irritated but this wasn’t quite the story for me this time around.

About the Author

Elle Connel is the pseudonym of Lucy Ribchester, whose previous novels, The Hourglass Factory and The Amber Shadows, were historical thrillers. She has a first class degree in English from the University of St Andrews and a Masters in Shakespeare Studies from Kings College London. Her previous work has won her a Scottish Book Trust New Writers Award, a Robert Louis Stevenson Fellowship, and short-listings for the Costa Short Story Award and Manchester Fiction Prize. She lives in Edinburgh with her partner and two sons.

2 thoughts on “You Can Stay by Elle Connel

Comments are closed.