What they are capable of sharing with readers is limited: at times, they keep certain knowledge and awareness at a distance themselves, and as the story unfolds, there are additional reasons why it’s difficult for readers to fully understand the sibling relationships and the women’s individual selves.
Lyon develops her scenes meticulously from her characters’ perspectives, however. The details that they observe and describe provides readers with some clues to understanding the women. One, for instance, is painfully aware of scents and observes a secondary character’s wife as follows: “Alice beamed at her, and turned to greet other significant donors. She was tiny and electric and smelled of vanilla, orange, and smoke.”
Taking a whiff of that complexity—those three strong and competing odors—and there’s a hint of the kind of complexity that arises in the novel’s relationships. There are a number of scenes, in which a single character or a pair of characters appear to directly confront matters of consent. But the resolutions are unexpected or nonexistent, leaving readers to finish posing questions as well as inwardly debating possible answers.
Consider this brief discussion between Saskia and David, at a charity event he has organized:
“You know I hate prepared piano. It’s stupid.” [Saskia]
“It’s just corks.” [David]
“Wedged into the strings.” She shook her head. “Piano rape.”
“Don’t knock it till you try it.” David flashed the grin that had raised his hospital millions over the years.
Even though the language is more functional than figurative, the occasional exception to that rule underscores tension and desperation in the novel. So Saskia and Jenny’s father went “back to work the way a pit bull goes back to a mailman’s leg—grim, ferocious, unrelenting, joyless”. And “voicemails studded her days, like pills or cigarettes”. This subtle shaping kept me turning the pages, finishing in just a couple of reading sessions.
For me, the most satisfying element of this novel is its exposure of the unresolved, of the questions which remain unanswered (sometimes for a lifetime). But this is intertwined with one element of resolution which seems, at best, contradictory and, at worst, incredible. This could be in service of this overarching idea of the unanswerable—evidence of an even greater degree of dedication to what remains unresolved—but it’s also possible to view it as a solution.
Perhaps the lipsticked-goblet on the cover is an open invitation to book club members, who would find much to discuss in Consent.