The Origins of Iris by Beth Lewis

This month sees the publication of Beth Lewis’ latest novel, The Origins of Iris. As soon as I heard about this book, it quickly became one of my most anticipated reads for this year, having loved Beth’s previous novels which include The Wolf Road, which featured in my Top 10 of 2016, and Bitter Sun, another favourite from 2018. So naturally I was thrilled to have the opportunity to read this new book ahead of its publication on Thursday. 

Within the pages of this gripping story, the eponymous Iris is a woman embarking on something of a journey, both physically and emotionally. She flees her home in New York City to escape an abusive relationship with her wife, Claude, swapping her city life for some time in the wilderness in order to give herself the headspace she needs to come to terms with not only her current relationship, but those from her past, and the mistakes she has made, as she ponders the path she has taken. Nature is of particular significance to Iris as this was something that binds her to her father, with whom she found solace amongst the wilderness. Together they would absorb the natural world around them, as well as being entranced by the wider universe – something that Iris has a continued fascination with, with her beloved telescope being the only item she takes with her as she leaves her life behind. I enjoyed this contrast in locations, with the story switching between New York and the Catskill Mountains with ease as well as alternating between the ‘Before’ and ‘After’ as we see Iris return to nature before tracing back her steps during her time in New York, watching the relationships that develop, along with the deceptions and trauma that prompted her to leave it all behind. And as the story progresses, we see the impact these life events have had on Iris, as she spends time in an unforgiving landscape, facing her problems – and herself – head on. 

I always enjoy stories which are told in alternating timelines so this was a novel that immediately caught my interest and I was quickly drawn to this character and this world which Lewis has vividly depicted. The premise too was something that intrigued me, as this is the first novel I recall reading which depicts abuse taking place in a same sex marriage. As is to be expected with any novel which explores abusive relationships as one of its themes, it’s not always a comfortable read, and there are some particularly harrowing moments as we see the signs of controlling behaviour, mental and physical abuse appear. It also explores the subsequent effects of that abuse, as Iris begins to process what has happened, as she confronts the secrets of her past, and reacts to the way in which she has been treated. I found it really interesting to see the way in which this trauma is depicted, the way we run through in our heads what we have done, and wonder how we could have acted differently. And as we see in Iris’s case, how we envisage a new version of ourselves, considering a different path we may have taken, questioning if we had done things differently, would we be happier?  

The Origins of Iris is another excellent novel from Beth Lewis who has become an ‘auto-buy author’ for me. With its alternating timelines and settings, its exploration of a woman’s life and loves, and its unflinching portrayal of what happens when relationships take an unpleasant path, this was a story which had me gripped throughout. And I am once again looking forward to whatever Beth writes next! 

The Origins of Iris is to be published on the 19th August 2021 by Hodder Studio. With thanks to Beth and the publishers for providing a proof copy for review. 

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