The Origins of Iris
Wild meets Sliding Doors in this unforgettable novel
by Beth Lewis
This title was previously available on NetGalley and is now archived.
Pub Date 19 Aug 2021 | Archive Date 19 Aug 2021
Hodder & Stoughton, Hodder Studio
'Evocative and unexpected, tender and fierce, The Origins of Iris is unlike any other thriller I've read in years . . . Outstanding' Sarah Hilary
'This novel is like a dream, from the haunting narrative to the beautiful prose to the way Iris and her wilderness kept making their way into my subconscious at night. It is everything I could want from a book' Anna Bailey
'I opened my eyes and the woman wearing my face opened hers at the same time.'
Iris flees New York City, and her abusive wife Claude, for the Catskill Mountains. When she was a child, Iris and her father found solace in the beauty and wilderness of the forest; now, years later, Iris has returned for time and space to clear her head, and to come to terms with the mistakes that have led her here. But what Iris doesn't expect in her journey of survival and self-discovery is to find herself - literally.
Trapped in a neglected cabin deep in the mountains, Iris is grudgingly forced to come face to face with a seemingly prettier, happier and better version of herself. Other Iris made different choices in life and love. But is she all she seems? Can she be trusted? What is she hiding?
As a storm encroaches, threatening both their lives, time is running out for them to discover why they have been brought together, and what it means for their futures.
Author of the critically-acclaimed debut The Wolf Road, Beth Lewis returns with her brand new novel The Origins of Iris where Wild meets Sliding Doors. An important, searing novel about one woman's journey in fleeing an abusive relationship and confronting the secrets of her past.
Real readers have been captivated by The Origins of Iris:
'A truly unique book that tackles some sensitive topics head on . . . incredibly thought provoking'
'It will stay with me for a long time'
'A captivating and powerful read that touches on notions of self-discovery and survival as well as hope and optimism and explores serious themes bravely and sympathetically'
'A solid 5 star read . . . Haunting, poignant and human'
'One of the best books I have read this year'
'A raw, emotionally charged story that will grip you from start to finish'
Available on NetGalley
Average rating from 38 members
I've long been a fan of Beth Lewis and have seriously enjoyed her previous works. I've always felt that she has been underappreciated and undervalued as an author previously, as her stories have simply been compelling. I feel those views could change now, as I was lucky enough to read The Origins Of Iris earlier thanks to NetGallery and simply stated, this book is a game changer. I won't give away any secrets, but it's raw intensity and emotional charge is voracious and gripping. Some of the story and topics are brutally honest and raw, but these are truths that need to be spoken and told to a wide an audience as possible. The story is captivating & the all the characters formed from such imagination & love. Such is it's strength & intensity, there were some chapters that were so emotional and poignant that I deliberately slowed my reading down to read, digest and think. To encounter such depth and challenge from a book is a wonderful thing and I genuinely hope that this book succeeds and is read by as many people as possible, as it should serve as a motivator for change and seen as a empowering, strong & wonderful piece of fiction.
An enjoyable read with a few twists and turns, I was glued to it from the first page and couldn’t put it down ..........
How to put into words how much I loved this book... The split narrative of the 'before' and 'after', the development of the characters and story line is amazing - I was hooked from page 1, and left wanting to know more at the end. The sign of an amazing book. I am new to Beth's work, but will be looking out for her other books. Thank you to Netgalley, Beth Lewis and Hodder & Stoughton for an early copy of this book!
Unfortunately I won't be able to review this fabulous-looking book. I only review hard copy ARC, apologies for the misunderstanding. Many thanks again, much appreciate the opportunity. I only review hardcopies and made the epic of error of thinking NetGalley did both forms. Apologies for the inconvenience, and obviously if you're happy to send actually copies, I'd love to hear from you. Best regards,
This is a hard hitting, moving, gripping book which explores with searing accuracy the world of domestic violence, and shows beyond doubt that this is not a gender specific issue. Although there are elements of crime and even horror, it is at heart a moving personal drama, written with great sensitivity.
Uncompromising and honest account of losing your identity and sense of self to domestic abuse. This is a hard hitting and at times brutal story yet it is also beautiful and magical. Iris entwines herself into your thoughts and heart and you can't help yourself from reading on to find out how it all ends. You care for her so much and want her to escape unharmed not only from the elements that surround her but from her wife. The writing is beautiful and the way the author shows her inner thoughts and struggles is so cleverly plotted. I loved the sliding doors elements. The What Ifs. Even meeting herself in the mountains is so realistically portrayed. All the little emotions she feels. All the angst and hopes. What would life be like elsewhere? What secrets are hidden in the past? I found the narrative powerful in the way that it was executed as now and then. It was so poignant to follow both timelines especially when it was about the relationship with her Dad. An important book gorgeously written that highlights domestic abuse is not just gender specific.
This is an extraordinary book; unsettling and challenging, unexpected and compelling. Iris isn’t an easy character to connect with when you first meet her—goofy is an horrendous term to describe her, given where the rest of the book goes, but it’s the first impression one gets. It undermines her, it invites us to judge her, dismiss her a little, but thats when you find yourself poised to occupy exactly the kind of privileged shelf from which to look down on a woman in the kind of danger she’s been in, and the reality of your own prejudices puts such an edge on her story. From there, she drags you into her mess so convincingly, you can’t look away. Iris’s history of grief and blame plays out in all the expected ways, but there’s no simple villain in this story, and it’s the suggestions of respite and repair in her relationship with her wife, that invariably come to naught, that make it so harrowing. But by running this narrative directly alongside a manifestation of how her life could have been, in the body of the mysterious Other Iris who finds her—despairing and physically damaged —in the woods, the tension is pushed to unexpected highs, especially as Iris contemplates using this moment of entangled universes to switch over to the better life she missed out on. It’s the ultimate experience of torturing yourself with regret, and my heart absolutely broke watching both versions of this woman struggle with the same background demon. Fans of Sarah Pinborough’s speculative-tinged bestsellers—Behind Her Eyes, especially—will find this a particularly compelling read. Absorbing, affecting, shocking, I would happily recommend this to anyone. I also particularly loved the raccoon.
It's difficult to classify a book such as this - suspenseful and thrilling with a dash of magical realism, a journey of self discovery, exploration, and redemption. But one thing is for certain: Beth Lewis commands her own space within her own genre, and her unique way of storytelling is almost entirely unmatched. Showing the reality of abuse within a gay marriage with all of the extra difficulties that go with it, Lewis offers an emotional insight which is at times hard to swallow. Iris is flawed, but her story shows how easily being the victim of violence can result in blurred lines between who you are and what you're capable of. The Origins of Iris is another triumph by an author to always keep on your radar.
If you have never read Beth Lewis before, this raw, emotionally heartbreaking novel is a great place to start. Lewis examines the anatomy of love, betrayal and abuse within a lesbian marriage, something rarely portrayed, set in New York. It begins with the eponymous flawed Iris walking out on her life with her most valued possession, a telescope, leaving her wife, the beautiful Claude, without looking back, taking particular routes so she cannot be traced. We learn through a narrative of before and after, the details of Iris's background, her closeness to a father unhappy in his marriage who found solace in dreaming of escaping into nature and his obsession with the stars which Iris shares. Iris is burdened with a unbearable guilt she is unable to shed at his death when she was 16. It is this guilt that provides the bedrock of why Iris remained in a marriage that had her terrorised, living in fear of her life, feeling she deserved all the bad things that happened, whilst simultaneously hampered by her all consuming love for her wife. Iris heads to the one place she feels connected to her father, the wilderness, only to find herself facing a epic biblical battle for her soul and identity. With the deployment of a little magical realism, Iris comes face to face with different versions of herself, one in particular that illustrates how life could have been, if only she had made different choices. However, can she trust the 'perfect' life of this other Iris? Haunted by Claude, Iris is forced to face her inner demons, enter the dark heart of who she is and challenging truths she can barely acknowledge, whilst a raging storm threatens to destroy all in its path. This is a bare knuckle and bloody fight for a life, a traumatised Iris has to come to terms with who she is and the secrets buried within her, and it almost kills her. She emerges with the hard won knowledge that she is now able to walk a new path, strong enough to come face to face with Claude again, and come out intact, although we are left in a state of ambiguity as to what Iris does after this. This is a stunning but emotionally tough read, of issues that do not often get coverage, of a lesbian marriage, of coercive control,the lies, the deceptions, and life threating abuse. Iris is an abused woman who hardly anyone believes, finding herself isolated and alone, unwilling to reveal the grim realities of her marriage to anyone, who finally finds the courage to leave, but that is the mere shadows of the beginnings to what she has to undergo to reclaim herself again. Highly recommended. Many thanks to the publisher for an ARC.
One of the best books I have read this year. Iris flees an abusive marriage to "find herself" and retreats to the forests she explored with her father as a child. She has experienced so much trauma in her life and her marriage has left her a shadow of her former self. Forest life is not easy and a pesky (but loveable) raccoon does not help matters. Iris feels she is being watched and after a violent storm and an attempt on her life she comes face to face with...herself!! Not who she is now but a different Iris who has walked a different path and made alternative choices. I loved the Sliding Doors element to this story and although it has moments of abuse and fear there is beauty and magic as well. Highly recommend.
This is a raw, emotionally charged story that will grip you from start to finish. Iris flees New York and her abusive wife Claude to find solace in the wilderness of the Catskill Mountains. She finds herself trapped in a cabin and she comes face to face with a better version of herself. This other Iris made different choices but what is she hiding. The synopsis for this book had me intrigued and I wasn't left disappointed. There are twists and turns and the gripping storyline explores the world of domestic violence and how one can lose their own identity. The writing is beautiful and the story emotional. A definite must-read.
I'm a huge fan of Beth Lewis's work having loved both The Wolf Road and Bitter Sun. Her latest novel, The Origins of Iris, is very different to both of those novels, but it's another one that I loved and I'm certain that it will make an appearance in my books of the year list come December. The novel is told in alternating 'Before' and 'After' chapters. The pivotal point is Iris's decision to leave Claude, her wife of six years. The before chapters show Iris’s relationship with Claude and what drives her to leave the woman she loves. We see how they first met – a clear case of lust at first sight – and despite neither of them acting on those desires when they first spot each other across a crowded room, they begin a relationship when Iris – quite literally – runs into Claude some weeks later. They marry and are initially happy, but Iris’s narrative soon shows a darker side to the relationship as we witness the truth about Claude as she becomes physically violent after a work party gone wrong. We then see Iris increasingly walking on eggshells, wondering if – and eventually when – Claude might strike her again. I think that it’s difficult to portray domestic abuse and abusive relationships sensitively, but Lewis manages this successfully. What is perhaps is even more difficult to convey is why the victim seems to put up with it and chooses to stay rather than leaving their abuser. I think that Lewis addresses this point particularly well throughout the novel and while it’s hard to read about at times – Lewis so successfully evokes Iris’s fear when she spots the warning signs of Claude’s anger – I did understand why she stayed to a point, although it’s fair to say that I was happier knowing that she would leave eventually. "I've been asked that before, and really… I don't have a good answer except I was afraid." The after chapters show Iris in the days and weeks after she leaves Claude. There’s her initial mad dash to the Catskill Mountains and her fear that she’ll be caught by either Claude and / or the authorities once her disappearance has been discovered. Finding an abandoned hut, she starts trying to turn it into something resembling a home, despite the state of dilapidation and her lack of skills, equipment, and supplies. It seems like a futile exercise, and yet I couldn’t help but be pleased for Iris in making her escape, particularly as the alternating chapters show the truth of what she leaves behind. It doesn’t seem like a long term plan, and yet she begins to shape this little hut into something of her own, and there’s a sense of pride in achieving something away from the controlling Claude. After taking a fall in bad weather, Iris meets a woman who is hiking. A woman who is almost identical to Iris, who is called Iris, and who has more in common with Iris than should be possible. As the two women find that they can’t leave, they must work together to understand what has brought them together and how they get out of the unusual situation that they find themselves in. It’s through this mechanism that we see what Iris’s life might have been like had she made other choices – not just in terms of her relationship with Claude, but other, earlier decisions that she has come to regret. It’s something of a Sliding Doors moment as we see what might have been, but it's not simply a case of the grass being greener and there’s a sense that their two lives have been different since a key point of divergence in Iris’s teens, but that the alternative Iris has still experienced difficulties of her own. "A different me, but unmistakably me. I'd gone into the woods to find myself. I found her. Literally." Iris is such a wonderful character – one who is most definitely flawed and yet easy to sympathise with, particularly as we learn more about her and her circumstances. I love her enthusiasm for all things space related and found it to be infectious – I have a sudden urge to buy a telescope after reading this novel. Through the alternating before and after chapters, the reader gets a sense for how much her relationship with Claude has affected Iris – not just from being a victim of domestic abuse, but the way in which Claude has taken control over so many decisions on Iris’s behalf, shaping her into her ideal rather than letting Iris be herself. It’s wonderful to see her character evolve away from that control and to begin making those choices for herself, however daunting a process that is for her. The Origins of Iris doesn’t fit neatly into any one genre. There’s a speculative fiction element, but it’s also a novel that explores relationships – of all kinds – and the way in which our past mistakes and regrets stay with us and affect our lives in ways we might not expect. It’s a fantastic novel that will sweep you away to New York and the Catskill Mountains, and one that I highly recommend.
My first Beth Lewis, and it won’t be my last. Thanks to NetGalley for letting me read this in advance of publication, and now to find a copy of The Wolf Road. The Origins of Iris is like Sliding Doors for adults, where the focus is on the choices we make and how they affect us and those around us. Through the device of ‘before’ and ‘after’ narratives we learn about the character of Iris and how she gets to the point she is now. Iris is a young girl, obsessed by space and loving the time she spends outdoors with her father. Iris is a teenager, finding the body of her father hanging in the woods. Iris is the slightly disappointed wife, sticking with someone she doesn’t really love because of their shared history. Iris is the snarky best friend who is always up for a different experience. Iris is also the scared abused wife who hides the reality of her existence because she feels she deserves what is happening to her. Though the subject was not an easy one to read about, and the sense of pessimism pervading the lives of those who feel they've made bad choices was hard to take, there was so much to love about this book. When we see Iris has taken it upon herself to run away and lose herself in the Catskill Mountains it would be all too easy to see this as a disaster waiting to happen. When she first starts walking and camping in the shelter there were some hysterical moments - Monty the racoon made me snort laugh - but it soon became clear that this was going to be a journey like no other. A journey that was very necessary, but one which she might not survive.
Iris escapes to the Catskill Mountains, leaving her abusive wife Claude behind her. The forest is a part of her, a part of her shared history with her father and as she approaches the forest again she is torn between the hurt of her past and a need to find something meaningful for her future. She is here to find herself, and she does. Herself, but on a different path. And as Iris finds herself, both she and Other Iris must understand why they have been brought together, and how they get out… before the storm comes and they are wiped from the earth. This is a novel that took my breath away. After what felt like a slightly slower start for me, this book delivered gut punch followed by heart wrenching scene and I was totally hooked. Lewis has a beautiful way of touching the rawness of an emotion and making it completely human. It’s special. This book comes with a host of trigger warnings and the subject matter is deep. Suicide, domestic abuse, death, grief and violence are all covered in its pages and these issues are handled with a sensitivity, but with no shying away from the reality of what it means to live through them. The relationship between Iris and Claude in particular was so difficult to read because it felt so real, horrible, but real. I enjoyed split narrative as well, and the way the paths wound together, leading to the moment where everything meets in the same place. The idea that each moment in the story was a decision, a choice that led Iris in a different direction, a thousand other Irises playing out different stories in different plays, was subtly woven throughout and worked really well. Overall, this is a solid 5 star read for me. Haunting, poignant and human. *Thanks Hodder & Stoughton and Netgalley for gifting me this advance read copy in exchange for an honest review!
The Origins of Iris is a captivating novel set against the backdrop of atmospheric, haunting and remote scenery. It is while staying in an isolated cabin in the wilderness, Iris confronts her past in this thought-provoking, evocative thriller. Startlingly, Iris comes face to face with an alternate version of herself in this tale replete with resilience, hope and the variety of different narratives we tell ourselves. As a child, Iris and her father found solace in the beauty and wilderness of the forest, and now Iris needs time to come to terms with the mistakes that have led her here. What Iris doesn’t expect in this journey of survival and self-discovery is to find herself—quite literally. Trapped in a neglected cabin deep in the Catskill mountains and with rapidly dwindling supplies, Iris is forced to come face-to-face with a seemingly happier, prettier, better version of herself. She feels this way even after uprooting from her enviable life back in New York and her Manhattan penthouse. But is this other Iris all she seems? Can the doppelgänger be trusted? What is she hiding? And why did she end up here if her life went down such a different path? This is a captivating and powerful read that touches on notions of self-discovery and survival as well as hope and optimism and explores serious themes bravely and sympathetically. It also addresses the very real, very serious, but largely overlooked issue of domestic violence within same-sex relationships, an issue close to Lewis’ heart. The author’s imagination is thrilling, employing different literary devices and genres to tell an incredibly human story and the contrast between the glamourous Hollywood aspects of the tale and the brutal survivalist side is incredibly effective at showing Iris from two different perspectives; you could say it combines the usual white-knuckle, survivalist perils with a dose of Hollywood woo and weaves a thoroughly original book in the process. The fact that Iris comes face to face with herself leaves her examining her very essence in a beguilingly unique and thought-provoking fashion. Intricately spun yet so wonderfully simple and understated, this is such an emotionally resonant novel that has you feeling every emotion encountered by Iris who is a beautifully painted character with great depth and complexities. Highly recommended.