Carol Topolski had a triumphant debut with the highly original Monster Love. It was long listed for the Orange Prize, did very well in both hardcover and paperback editions, and generally scared the pants off everyone with its brilliant collage of voices recounting the story of a murder that we know has been committed from the very first chapters. It was not a Whodunnit, but a brilliant Whydunnit, and a great literary debut.
Carol is by profession a psychoanalytic psychotherapist – it is why people are the way they are and how they got that way that fascinates her; she mined this rich seam in Monster Love, and now she does it again in her new novel Do No Harm.
When Carol’s second novel arrived in manuscript I knew it would be scary. I knew I wouldn’t understand the main character at the beginning of the book. This time, Carol has created a protagonist who isn’t just monstrous (like the married couple in Monster Love who murder their child) but just so repellent that you almost can’t bear to follow her journey on the page. Virginia is brusque with people, rude even. She is greedy, she eats too much; she spills her food down her front; she is large and ungainly, she wears awful clothes and shoes – indeed, she hates clothes. It seems as if she wants to repel other people. She is also a brilliant doctor, but she doesn’t suffer fools, and only her colleagues and her patients like her – and even then they aren’t allowed to get to know her well. Then we begin to discover that maybe she isn’t the staunch upholder of her women patients that we thought she is, that maybe she is doing them harm. And yet, by the end of the novel she is a strangely sympathetic character and when you discover all the things that have happened to her, what her childhood was like, you begin to feel grains of sympathy.
The result is one of the most complex and well realised characters I’ve ever read – indeed, if you walked round her she would be completely 3D. By the end of the novel we know she is deranged, but, in the way of the best fiction, we understand why.
Publishing Director, Fig Tree