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Spoilt Creatures by Amy Twigg review – haven and hell in the countryside

Spoilt Creatures by Amy Twigg review – haven and hell in the countryside

Amy Twigg’s striking debut offers a new twist on the cult narrative. Rather than focusing on a charismatic male leader, Spoilt Creatures (the title comes from a letter Vita Sackville-West wrote to Virginia Woolf) is about one woman’s sway over a feminist commune buried in the Kent countryside.

It’s 2008. Iris is 32 years old, adrift, her life depressingly “dependable and ordinary”. After her relationship with Nathan runs its course, she returns to her childhood home, moves in with her widowed mother and finds a dead-end job in an off-licence.

When Iris learns from a friend about Breach House, a place “out in the sticks” for women who “need a change of scenery”, she jumps at the chance to escape her domestic claustrophobia and join an all-female community. Once there, she is drawn to the enigmatic Hazel and discovers the farm’s strict hierarchy: “At the top of the food chain was Blythe, our alpha, whose words we would have inscribed on to stone if we’d had chisels sharp enough.” This immediately sets off alarm bells, but Iris turns a blind eye to any signs of coercion. “My loyalty to the other women – to Blythe, and Hazel – outweighed any doubt or rationale. Like a body, I buried it.”

Twigg’s compelling novel explores how cults ensnare vulnerable people and those with low self-esteem. It’s also about the misogyny of a conformist society. Looking back a decade later, Iris observes how the local people had viewed the women as “unhinged from societal norms, obscene in our habits. It made them feel better. To think of us as something animal … They wanted to believe we were born this way, rather than made.”

The bitter irony is that men are the women’s undoing and their infiltration of the commune leads to a horrifying act of violence. Twigg writes perceptively about loneliness and disconnection and the appeal of a haven from “the malfunctioning world of indecision and patriarchy”. But isolation brings opportunity and danger, as Spoilt Creatures amply demonstrates.

Source: theguardian.com