Blind Side by Jennie Ensor
Can you ever truly know someone? And what if you suspect the unthinkable?
London, five months before 7/7. Georgie, a young woman wary of relationships after previous heartbreak, gives in and agrees to sleep with close friend Julian. She’s shocked when Julian reveals he’s loved her for a long time.
But Georgie can’t resist her attraction to Nikolai, a Russian former soldier she meets in a pub. While Julian struggles to deal with her rejection, Georgie realises how deeply war-time incidents in Chechnya have affected Nikolai. She begins to suspect that the Russian is hiding something terrible from her.
Then London is attacked…
Every so often you stumble across a novel that is so much bigger than its synopsis and its depth astounds you. This is one of them and it is amazingly good!
The prologue opens with intense gun fight scene. However, this does not set the pace for this novel. The novel is based around the relationships of the characters involved, their intentions, emotions and internal struggles. The protagonist Georgie, whilst not being someone, I would not necessarily choose to be friends with, held a fair and honest narrative throughout. She was at times emotionally needy, lonely and immature. Yet at the same time incredibly open, honest and willing to see the good in people.
Georgie’s bestie Julian confesses his love for her, when she fails to reciprocate the feelings. We start to see the sinister and spiteful side to his nature. Georgie still holds out some hope that he will come to terms with the situation. This is one trait in Georgie that I absolutely adored, her ability to see the good in people.
Georgie literally stumbles into Russian Nikolai on a night in a London bar and she is quite taken with his mysterious personality. Although she has no intentions of seeing Nikolai again, it is not long until he is dominating her every thought. Nikolai has been living in London just five weeks. He has struggled to find work and relied upon menial jobs. Georgie is a complex character and in a city the size of London, where thousands of people live, she feels the bitter sting of loneliness and isolation. Will Nikolai offer her a brighter future?
“Everyone I love will leave me in the end”
Nikolai is such a multifaceted character, I really warmed to his struggles and personal demons. Having served in the Russian army via conscription for two years in 1998, He was part of the Russian/Chechen war. He is haunted by this and at times present as an extremely wounded and vulnerable man. Almost reminiscent of the soldiers returning from war that present with symptoms of PTSD but refuse to see the diagnosis themselves. Nikolai is a soul searching for redemption. He immediately draws the reader into his personal story and background.
There are chapters written from the perspective of a someone stalking Georgie. They make for harrowing and intense reading. Is this the jealous Julian or the intense Nikolai? They speak of catching her off guard and talk of her in a degrading way. I felt frightened for her safety, knowing she was completely unaware.
Nikolai begins to open up regarding his past and we see how the gentle nature of Georgie, heals some of his past wounds. They talk about their upbringings, Moscow, past loves and politics. They form a meeting of minds and it is beautiful to read. This is all going well until Georgie stumbles across a cryptic note in Nikolai’s flat detailing a protest and potential violent incident!
When the London 7/7 attacks within days of her discovery, she is forced to ask herself the question, who can you really trust?
The aftermath of the 7/7 attacks details the anti-Islam and immigration feelings that some bought into in the UK. The strain of this and the note’s discovery wreaks havoc on the relationship between Georgie and Nikolai. Nikolai’s attitude towards war and death is so black and white. He has the true mind-set of a soldier. Does being ashamed of your countries actions make you honest or a traitor?
This is an incredible novel of love, insecurities, redemption and humanity.
Highly recommended 5*
JE: Thanks Abby for inviting me on your blog – and apologies for the length of some answers. I’m not good at being brief!
Q) For the readers can you tell us about yourself and your novel Blind Side?
A) I’ve a background in journalism, copywriting, physics and disparate other things. I’m now focussed on writing novels, flash fiction and poetry.
Blind Side is my first published novel, which I crowdfunded with Unbound. It was their first ‘digital first’ title, published one year ago (23 July). A paperback came out this February.
Blind Side is a thriller crossed with a love story, set in London during 2005. It’s narrated by a young Englishwoman, Georgie. She meets a Russian, Nikolai, recently arrived in London who was conscripted to fight in Russia’s war with Chechnya. Despite her misgivings about his possible psychological damage and the secrets he keeps – and the jealousy of Julian, her close friend – Georgie starts to fall for Nikolai. The novel follows the three as their lives become entwined and impacted by wider events, in particular the July terror attacks.
Q) what was the inspiration behind the plot of the novel and the themes of terrorism?
A) I’ve long been interested in how ordinary people cope with near intolerable situations. I wanted to explore a young soldier’s response (guilt, etc) to the terrible things he his forced to do and witness during wartime. I made him Russian after seeing photos of the devastation of Grozny. (I’ve also long been a fan of Russian novels.) As well I was interested in trust and how some people’s backgrounds make it difficult for them to withstand the intimacy of a relationship, and I wondered what might happen if a young woman with trust issues was intensely attracted to Nikolai, a guy who’s volatile, secretive and a potential source of danger.
As to the inspiration for the terrorism aspects in my novel, I admit I’m fascinated by stories of people who commit serious crimes which remain undiscovered for a long time. I was living in London during the July tube and bus attacks, and like many others was deeply shocked by them. After reading about the ‘homegrown’ backgrounds of the 7/7 suicide bombers, who had been living as fairly ordinary, unsuspected members of their community, I wanted to make the attacks and their aftermath a key part of the novel. (I’d already decided to set in 2005 London, as I prefer to anchor novels in a specific time period). Doing this allowed me to expand my idea of Nikolai’s hidden dark side, and to link his past fighting separatist ‘terrorist’ forces in Chechnya with the present of terrorist attacks in London.
Q) Georgie and Nikolai have such different/unique outlooks on life. I am myself married to a veteran that has served in war, that we now know was illegal and unlawful. The emotions Nikolai goes through were raw, intelligent and honest. Was Nikolai based upon anyone from real life and how was he researched?
A) No, he’s not based on a real person. But looking back now 12 years after I began the novel, I see there are echoes of a real person I knew with respect to certain aspects of his character. Much of Nikolai just came to me fully formed though – his way of speaking and mannerisms, for example.
How he was researched – I have Russian friends, and I found other Russians and asked them about their lives. Also I interviewed men who’d fought in Chechnya who were being treated in London for trauma-related issues, and read a lot about Russia and life as a soldier during this period.
Q) The politics within the novel was kept to a minimum and the novel focused on the humanity of the people involved. Was this an intentional narrative?
A) Absolutely. While I did include some passionate arguing, e.g. on whether terrorism can ever be justified, the novel focusses on the journeys and interactions of my central characters. The politics is there in the background but it’s the emotional punch of my characters’ interactions that’s crucial, and the collision of their beliefs and backgrounds. I deliberately made the political views/world affairs knowledge of my narrator fairly weak – as per Bridget Jones re Chechnya 🙂 – so readers not much interested in politics could relate to her and become immersed in the story.
Q) There were pieces of writing, which I can’t include for fear of spoilers, such as Zara’s story. What did you learn in your research of the Russian/Chechen war that you wanted to include but could not?
A) For months I was absorbed in finding out about the two wars between Russia and Chechnya in the 90s and the impact they had on soldiers and civilians. Zara, a Chechen woman in Blind Side is made up but her story is based on real incidents. Many of them were harrowing to read about. Thankfully I also came across uplifting stories of people showing great courage and dedication, e.g. a Frenchwoman who disguised herself as a local and spent months reporting undercover from conflict areas, and a Chechen surgeon who routinely saved lives on both sides, despite inadequate resources and his hospital being bombed. (My book includes a list of the non-fiction titles I used for research.) However I knew I needed a strong focus or I’d be writing a documentary. This turned out to be Zara.
Q) Is the process for writing such an emotive novel, draining? Do you start to see situations through the eyes of your characters?
A) Yes, at times I felt low after writing certain chapters, especially those which involved extreme violence or inhumanity. I have perfectionist tendencies so I’ll rewrite something until I know it’s right, which doesn’t help! Yes, I got to know my characters very well and tried to react to things as they would, particularly Georgie and Nikolai, who as you say have very different outlooks.
Q) What has been your favourite part of being a published author?
A) I’m still waiting to come across someone reading the book on a bus or train… hopefully one day! Out of what I’ve experienced so far though, it’s a real joy whenever I find a reader who completely gets what I was trying to say with my novel. That truly makes the hard graft worthwhile.
Q) If I had to sum up your novel using five words, they would be: emotional, intelligent, redemption, relationships and humanity. What five words would you use?
A) Secrets, jealousy, trauma, trust, forgiveness (and healing)
Q) What are your favourite reads of 2017 so far?
A) The Girls by Emma Cline, set in 1969 California. I’ve not finished the book but judging from what I read it may well be my favourite book this year. Out of books I’ve read by not published this year, I much enjoyed the eerie Dark Matter by Michelle Paver, also with a historical setting, and Before I Let You In by Jenny Blackhurst, an interesting psychological novel centred around a psychiatrist and her patient.
Q) what is next for Jennie Ensor? Do you have another novel planned and can we, as readers look forward to another 5* read?
A) I am writing the last chapters of a novel involving a serial child abuser and his family, who are starting to suspect him – it has some very dark subject matter and has also been pretty tough to write at times. Clearly, I’m a sucker for a challenge!
*Huge thanks to author Jennie Ensor for being part of a Q&A on my blog and I wish you every success in your writing career.
Blog & website: http://www.jennieensor.com
Author facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/JennieEnsorAuthor