When a woman gets to her mid-thirties, society expects her to have reached certain milestones: a fulfilling job, a career even, and to have settled on a partner and be seriously thinking about children. This, 37-year-old Jessie Burton’s third novel, is an intelligent investigation into these pressures and their psychological impact. Her particular skill is to explore this in a way that is engaging, entertaining and moving ... With her bestselling debut novel The Miniaturist, Burton proved her ability to create enticing worlds, and she does it again here ... Connie reveals how being a lesbian has made her life more difficult but her sexuality is never sensationalised. Because Burton never judges; rather she lays out a variety of ways of being and the challenges that may come with making honest choices. This is a novel that feels intimate, delving into the mechanics of relationships that women have both with others and with themselves. It’s also a riveting story that will keep you guessing until the end.
...necessary ... As the two stories merge, and the truth about what happened to Elise is slowly revealed, Burton has great fun skewering both the ersatz glamour of 80s Hollywood and our present world of carefully curated lives online ... Yet, while the central plot is moving and the story thoughtfully worked out, The Confession’s real power comes from Burton’s willingness to delve deep into the choices her heroines make and what those choices might ultimately mean ... Serious yet playful, and beautifully told, the result is an engaging and vital novel that, thankfully, puts women’s interior lives centre stage once more.
Uniting the two eras are the challenges that come with womanhood (this is a novel with zero memorable male characters). Both marriage and motherhood are portrayed as threats to the female self, and it’s Connie – mercurial and imposing, yes, but also single and childless – who comes to dominate the story even as age weakens her. That she’s capable of shocking callousness makes her all the more interesting. While Burton resists easy conclusions, calling out the perverse comfort that’s to be had from abandonment and the myriad other ways in which a lover’s hurt can justify shabby behaviour, she does have a weakness for treacly dialogue ... It’s one of relatively few flaws in an absorbing, intelligent piece of storytelling that succeeds in sustaining its mystery to the end.
...the plot becomes a bit of a stretch ... The narrative alternates between the present and 1982, moving towards a resolution of the central mystery...This keeps up the momentum, but also, because of the artifice of the set up, demands diligent and not always convincing justification ... Burton is an accessible, appealing stylist and writes with sincere gusto. She is particularly good at evoking a sense of place, whether a contemporary London house or a 1980s Hollywood poolside. A sharp intelligence beneath the romantic sensibility makes the less convincing story elements almost forgivable. What is less easy to ignore is the unconvincing and emblematic characterisation. Together with the plot, this makes The Confession feel more like stylishly written commercial fiction than a novel of any literary heft. Of course, there is nothing wrong with commercial fiction, people devour it. Burton, I suspect, will need to weather roaring book sales for some time to come.
Though The Confession does not extend as far into the past as her previous books, Burton deploys her characteristically piquant sense of period detail ... What one notices here, however, is a more free-flowing aspect to her prose, which is plainer and less obstructed by overworked passages than her earlier work ... The Confession perhaps lacks the dramatic thrust of The Muse and The Miniaturist; it is quite a slow build to the revelation promised by the title. But Burton is a writer fully in control of her craft as she employs the fundamental co-ordinates of a fairytale. Overall it stands as another understated triumph for the patient typist
What unites these strands...is the women’s agency, or lack thereof ... Rose’s segments are the most illuminating, as she attempts to 'arrive at a sense of solidity' and carve out an identity, often by interrogating the idea of motherhood ... Elise is less well-developed; much of her story takes place around Constance’s film set, where she feels like a bit part in someone else’s ever-broadening horizon...unfortunately she remains similarly opaque to the reader who, after more than 450 pages, expects a greater resolution to her story than the underwhelming finale they’re ultimately given. Despite this, what stands out is Burton’s interrogative commentary on the propensity to label women’s writing as 'autofiction' — lived experience, rather than imaginative leap — and the dangers inherent to such categorisation. It has good things to say, too, about the importance of welcoming failure, and having compassion for oneself in doing so ... But while there are glimmers of the immersive, Gothic atmosphere that won Burton such acclaim for her previous novels, in examining how and why stories are told, The Confession is too focused on theory, and doesn’t deliver a strong enough tale in its own right.
...in The Confession the author interrogates responsibility’s different resonances: notably pitting a woman’s duty to care for herself against her obligation to care for her child; also exploring responsibility towards friends...and the impact of our behaviour on them. The author has a talent for rendering lifelike characters on the page and creates a gripping double plot. But by signposting ‘responsibility’ and shoehorning opinions into the narrative, The Confession can feel a little heavy-handed. Burton should trust her many admirers to be able to read between the lines of her — often beautiful — prose.
...a declaration of a woman’s right to take charge of her own destiny ... To get Rose into a position where she can get to know Connie and win her trust, The Confession relies on a plausibility, stretching contrivance which would be tricky for a lesser book to come back from. But Burton’s three central characters – chief among them Connie, whose insistence on her autonomy has come at a cost to herself and others – are so complex and compelling that their spell is never broken for long.