Top critical review
Phoebe, Orla and Grace are all crushed in more ways than one.
25 June 2019
‘Crushed’, set in contemporary Bath focuses on one summer in the lives of Phoebe, Orla and Grace, Year 12 girls studying ‘Macbeth’ under the tutelage of their English teacher, Mr Jonasson, on whom Phoebe has a ‘crush’. But that’s not the only reason for the title of the novel. All three teenagers are crushed; we learn of the ways in which they grow misshapen as they take it to reveal the impact that their mothers have had in shaping them.
Grace does a valiant job of being the primary carer for a parent who has MS and she wouldn’t have it any other way. Her mother is brave, appreciative and loving. However, understandably Grace lives with the spectre of her mother’s death hovering just out of sight. With the fear of the authorities taking over, she walks a daily tightrope of control over chaos. Ironically, this is what helps her to stay strong when other pressures impinge. She has had years of practice as a child soldier. She fights to protect what she loves – and her shaved head symbolises her tough mindset.
Whilst Grace is skinny and cool and resilient, Orla is plump, sweet and forgiving. She adores the beautiful Phoebe but her sapphic desires appal her mother who makes her feel both guilty and angry. Over the summer Orla shows her disapproval of Phoebe’s liaisons with Mr Jonasson time and again but Phoebe never listens to Orla unless it benefits her.
The last of the trio, Phoebe, has the most to say in ‘Crushed’ but, unfortunately, is the least credible character. Made utterly toxic by her vile mother, most of the time she comes across as little more than a caricature of a troubled teenager. Whilst it’s plain to see that her mother is instrumental in her self-destruction, we wonder why their turbulent relationship has come to be. The reader is meant to feel sorry for damaged Phoebe but she just doesn’t appear as authentic as the other girls Perhaps there are too many ‘cry-for-help’ incidents; perhaps it’s Phoebe’s voracious research on the witches in ‘Macbeth’ that becomes tedious (heard it all before); perhaps it’s simply her appalling treatment of Orla.
Readers have noted the link between the three girls and the three witches in ‘Macbeth’ – Grace makes this clear in the last chapter (albeit the words of a damaged woman) - and the magic tropes come thick and fast. However, to suggest that this power is at the centre of the narrative is to miss the point. Shakespeare’s witches never feel the weight of their work; in fact, they delight in it. In contrast, the three girls in ‘Crushed’ are bowed down by events, learning that ‘what’s done cannot be undone’. There is no forgiveness because they can only rely on each other and that’s the real tragedy of this story.
My thanks to NetGalley and Faber & Faber for a copy of this novel in exchange for a fair review.