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Tempting Olivia - Clare Ashton

Tempting (adj.): intriguing, seductive, enticing.

Lawyer Olivia Sachdeva doesn’t do intriguing, seductive, or enticing, except when there’s a case to win, or a higher standard to reach, or when she escapes into the third or twenty-seventh rewatching of a Kate Laurence film—the last a secret kept so locked away that only her best friend, Charlotte, is aware of its existence. Temptation leads to disorder. It means wandering outside the very rigid, very precise, utterly flawless circle that Olivia has created to enclose her life. And Olivia has never been prone to wandering anywhere.

Kate Laurence, she of the very secret repeat viewing, does not wander, but, rather, walks dramatically into Olivia’s office; that very precise office in that very precise circle, bringing a messy divorce case, and a messy personal life. Bringing temptation, seduction, and intrigue. Olivia’s internal monologue is no longer thoughts about how to align the coasters in her lounge room. Suddenly, there are thoughts—secret messy thoughts—that reveal themselves too often in facial expressions that had behaved themselves until Kate.

Everything was until Kate.

I’ve decided that Clare Ashton, like so many authors I admire, wields magic. Without giving too much away—well, sort of—I discovered two things (proper author-y word). The first is that in the beginning of the book, Olivia’s chapters are written with clipped sentences. The speaking, the thinking, and the general narration bit. All of it precise, nothing extraneous, perfect words choice, as if we are in Olivia’s head observing her life, which we are but you get what I mean. Then, when it’s Kate’s turn to think, and feel, and be, the sentences are longer where the perfect words are bookended with an ‘extra’ like she’s waving her hands about while she looks at her surroundings. Olivia doesn’t do hands-waving-about. It’s brilliant. The characters inhabit their own chapters for as long as they can, then the pebble is tossed into Olivia’s serene pond of raised eyebrows, and suddenly chapters are laden with scene break asterisks. Points of view quicken. And masks are removed.

The theme of masks pervades the story. The mask that Olivia wears for protection, the mask that Kate has worn for so long that her persona has become her identity. There is a scene much later in the book—oh! This is a spoiler-y bit—where Kate and Olivia attend a masquerade party. It didn’t have to be a masquerade party. It could have been any old bog-standard version, but Ashton made it a masquerade party because it was important for Olivia and Kate to dance, and connect, and breathe so closely that whispers of thoughts could be felt on each other’s skin. It was important for Olivia and Kate to lift each other’s mask to see. Not to look. That’s easy. But they see, and it’s gorgeous.

The mask theme continues along another train track in the story. That of neurodivergence. Neurodivergent people are very good at masking. Fitting in. Appearing normal. Ashton writes gently, softly about Charlotte’s realisation, her a-ha moment, about her ADHD. She lets Charlotte slip off her mask herself. It is telling that Olivia observes the unconditional love that Millie, Charlotte’s girlfriend, has for Charlotte, and realises, with regret and sadness, that she hadn’t seen the signs of Charlotte’s way of navigating the world in all their years of friendship.

As readers, we make the assumption that Olivia is neurodivergent. Readers are supposed to make assumptions. We take notice of Olivia’s modus operandi. We discover how love affects her very being, her carefully constructed neurodivergent life. And we witness Olivia dipping her toe into the waters of chaos, then Kate reaching for her hand to guide Olivia into the safety of their small boat as if to say, “We’re in this together because here’s my life, and it’s not perfect, and you’ve shown me yours and it’s not perfect either, so how about our hearts guide this vessel to forever.”

That John Venn bloke knew what he was talking about when he tossed two hula hoops in the air and found that union in between. He probably had Olivia Sachdeva and Kate Laurence in mind, because they are the epitome of two circles which inexplicably, wonderfully, grab hold of a magnetism to find that perfect union in between.

For all the quotes and adages and beards pretending to be old men sitting in rocking chairs smoking pipes telling everyone, who’ll stand still long enough to listen, that temptation is bad bad awful awful bad and good luck trying to step away, resisting temptation is actually easy. It’s safe. There’s strength in taking those steps towards temptation, even though you’re not sure it’s a good idea, but you do. And it’s incredible when you get there so you wonder why it took you so fucking long to realise that temptation was where you should have been in the first place.

Olivia gets there.

Without the swearing bit.


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