Monday, September 22, 2014

Book Review: Getting Even

By Jami Deise

Revenge may be a dish best served cold, but revenge as a plot never gets old.

In Getting Even, British author Sarah Rayner has updated Shakespeare’s Othello, placing the drama in a modern-day London advertising agency. Her Iago is Ivy, who feels betrayed when her best friend and work partner Orianna conceals her relationship with their co-worker Dan, then accepts a solo promotion. Although Ivy’s first reaction is to throw a drink in Orianna’s face when she’s told her friend will soon be her boss, she quickly moves into stealth revenge mode. Her lies, manipulations, and set-ups make her a brilliant combination of Iago plus Cady Heron from Mean Girls.

Although the work takes months, and she’s forced to extend her games to her new co-worker Cassie and her and Dan’s mutual personal trainer Rob, eventually Ivy has Orianna right where she wants her. But Ivy has other lies and secrets of her own… and Orianna isn’t as oblivious as Ivy believes.

Getting Even is a sharp, well-written novel that will have readers questioning the motives behind the actions of their own friends and co-workers. Although the first scene drags a bit and fails to excite the reader for what comes next, the rest of the book is fast-paced and engrossing. It’s told from multiple viewpoints – Orianna’s, Ivy’s, Dan’s and Rob’s. Rayner takes pains to show how hurts in their past – Ivy’s from a father who deserted the family and then lied to get out of child support; Orianna’s from a previously failed relationship with another co-worker – make them vulnerable to feeling betrayed by those closest to them: For Ivy, it’s Orianna, and for Orianna, Dan.

Naturally, Orianna comes across as the most sympathetic, if a bit clueless. However, as the story progresses, she wises up even beyond the reader. Dan and Rob also come across as a little clueless – Rob especially. A gay man, Rob seems to have no “gaydar” – he easily buys Ivy’s lie that Dan goes both ways, ignoring all the evidence that Dan only has eyes for Orianna.

While telling the story partially from Ivy’s point of view gives readers a front seat to all her machinations, it does not succeed in accomplishing the loftiest goal of this type of storytelling – getting the reader to root for the villain. In this regard, I was reminded of the movie My Best Friend’s Wedding, where the writers deliberately set out to tell the story from the “bad guy’s” (or in that case, “bad girl”) point of view. In that movie, I think it worked, since only Jules’ point of view was presented. In this case, because the reader knows Orianna’s motives for her actions around Ivy are pure – and Ivy’s own back story nothing out of the ordinary – at no time does Ivy’s revenge seem justified.

The novel is set in the world of London advertising, and Rayner’s background in the industry makes the setting come alive. The rivalries between the writers and the artists, and the creative people versus the numbers people, add an extra layer to the revenge, and raise the stakes in the story.

Getting Even is a great read for fans who love a good revenge plot: Othello. Mean Girls. Revenge. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Moby Dick. It also serves as a warning for working women who’ve been encouraged to Lean In: Leaning in makes it too easy for the person behind you to stab you in the back. 

Thanks to St. Martin's Press for the book in exchange for an honest review. They'll be doing a giveaway along with our interview tomorrow.

More by Sarah Rayner:


Janine said...

Great review. Now, I really want to read this book too.

Kristy Woodson Harvey said...

That "lean in" part made me laugh out loud! This sounds like a great read. I always love a re-working of a classic!