The Favour is a novel about lies and secrets, and someone trying to grasp back the life they thought they should have. Ada Howell lost her father and his Welsh country house when she was thirteen, and her mother moved them to a less fancy existence in Brockley. After a failed Oxford interview cuts off one route of getting back into the rarified world she longs for, Ada has a stroke of luck: her bohemian godmother gifts her money for a modernised grand tour, an art history trip round Italy with others who can afford the price. On the trip, Ada tries to bind herself to her fellow students, desperate to become part of their lives, and a death gives her the perfect opportunity, but perhaps she wasn’t quite keeping the secrets she thought she was.
This is your classic ‘trying to be part of the rich people’ type novel, in which someone tries to reinvent themselves to become part of a group, but their hold isn’t steady. What I found distinctive about it was how vividly Ada is characterised—I found her annoying very quickly, so obsessed with seeming a bit posher than she was, and that worked well—and her voice is created. There were a few moments when I found the narrative voice odious in Ada’s thoughts on class, which was needed to show how desperately she wanted to ‘return’ to the societal position she felt she had before her author adoptive father died. That element—the fact it wasn’t her thinking she wanted to improve her ‘position’ in terms of class and wealth, but that she needed to return to it—made The Favour different to other books about people trying to fall in with the wealthy elite.
The narrative, however, was pretty typical, down to the kinds of secrets revealed (without spoilers, a twist near the end is very typical of the ‘rarified elite do something bad’ genre, especially as a way of making the foolish protagonist realise things were more intense than they realised) and the pacing, which follows them on the Italian trip and then speeds through later years using various gatherings to move things forward. The atmosphere, especially whilst the characters were in Italy, was well done, and again some of this was Ada’s narrative voice, which captured the way she was trying to present the trip and her frustrations when things didn’t quite work as she wanted. Strangely, I found this narrative voice and the fact Ada was often unlikable made me enjoy the book more, despite finding the narrative predictable.
Not a book for people who enjoy likeable characters, The Favour is a decently immersive book that, as it is being marketed, does have a Talented Mr Ripley vibe, and fits well with other novels about someone trying desperately to break into a rich, rarified world. Ada’s fraud and justifications draw you in, and those who don’t usually read any books with the ‘group of elite friends involved in something dark’ vibe might find the story less predictable.