Other People’s Clothes by Calla Henkel

Today is publication day for Calla Henkel with her debut novel, Other People’s Clothes, the premise of which had caught my interest and I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to read an early copy recently. 

The novel takes place in Berlin in 2009, in which the reader quickly becomes drawn into the lives of Zoe and Hailey, two art students who arrive in the city from New York. Both girls have their reasons for wanting to escape. Hailey to re-invent herself and make a name for herself in the art world, and Zoe, still grieving for her high school friend who had been murdered back in their hometown. They rent an apartment from an eccentric crime writer named Beatrice Becks, and fill their time with partying, finding themselves immersed in the Berlin club scene where they begin to unlock more about themselves and each other. However, this isn’t your typical depiction of partying students as there are further layers to the story, and a sense of unease throughout. The murder of Zoe’s schoolfriend which we learn in the early stages of the story casts a dark, foreboding shadow throughout the novel, but it is not the only time murder is a feature. When Zoe and Hailey notice some strange goings on within the apartment, they start to expect that Beatrice is keeping a close eye on them, perhaps using the girls as inspiration for her novel. This results in the girls playing up to Beatrice to play her at her own game, hosting further lavish parties in the apartment, increasing their notoriety, not realising the potential dark turn events could later take… 

I wasn’t sure what to expect going into this book, and was certainly intrigued with how events would unfold and I quickly became gripped by this story and its intoxicating cast of flawed characters. Henkel transports the reader back to the late noughties with ease, with the time and place of the story being vividly portrayed as the reader becomes caught up in the girls’ party lifestyle, their days fueled with alcohol, sex, drugs and parties, all whilst there is a sense that beneath it all nothing is quite as it seems. The characters are also as layered as the plot itself, as Zoe and Hailey try to find navigate this new world, whilst memories of the past are still ever present and it deals with a number of themes surrounding love and loss, and art and image (worth noting that there are a number of references to eating disorders along the way which may make quite difficult reading for some) I read that the film and TV rights for this book have already been bought which doesn’t surprise me at all as I certainly had quite a vivid image in my head as I read it and can imagine this being translated well onto the screen as well as being a popular summer read given its addictive nature. 

Other People’s Clothes is an intriguing debut which kept my interest with its dark, gritty plot and fascinating, unpredictable characters. It was published on 8th July 2021 by Sceptre with thanks to the publisher and Louise Court for providing a proof copy for review. 

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