Reading this novel was a stomach punch of emotion. For many years I have been a huge fan of Megan Abbott. She writes about women like no other crime writer. She writes about the secrets we keep, the lies we tell and the compromises we make in order to survive. She writes about female sexuality and the intense, complicated nature of female friendship.
'Give Me Your Hand' is an unflinching exploration of the female condition. What sets this apart is that Abbott deliberately chooses to focus the one aspect of womanhood so often ignored in literature – the female menstrual cycle.
The theme of blood – in all its gory glory – runs through the book as thick and fast as the blood that flows through our veins. Shades of red are everywhere: the flash of red on the undersole of a pair of expensive boots; the gush of red blood from a sliced-open neck; the leaking red mess of a pile of dead lab mice.
'Give Me Your Hand' is narrated by Kit Owen, an ambitious scientist on the cusp of her biggest break yet: the job she's always wanted. Kit has been part of a small team working for esteemed research scientist, Dr Severin. Severin is everything Kit wants to be – successful, respected and impossibly glamorous. She is also the leading name in cutting edge research into PMDD – premenstrual dysmorphic disorder – a very severe form of premenstrual syndrome., a condition that – by its nature – only affects women. It's like PMS 'only much, much worse'. Symptoms include debilitating mood swings and uncontrollable rage.
Severin now has funding for two of the team to continue working with her. As the only woman on the team, Kit seems the obvious choice for one of these roles. Until, out of the blue, a new scientist joins the team. Hand-picked by Dr Severin herself, the new appointee is rising star Diane Fleming. Kit and Diane have history – bad history. It's not a spoiler to say you know things won't end well. Abbott does such a brilliant job of building the tension that turning the pages becomes both a compelling and painful experience for the reader.
This entire novel is a joy. Perfectly paced, thick with tension and deep with compassion for the complicated, beautiful and terrible nature of the human condition.
There's a moment in the penultimate chapter that moved me to tears, when Kit attempts to define what it means to be human. How can we know about ourselves, she asks, when we know so little about how our minds really work? Despite years of research, science doesn't yet understand the different ways we make sense of ourselves and the world around us.
'Give Me Your Hand' is a remarkable novel by an author at the absolute top of her game. Wonderful, thought-provoking and deeply moving.