“What’s it about?”

It’s an obvious question that any writer should be prepared to answer about her latest book. But for me, the response is always a struggle.

My new book, THE EX, is out in the UK on February 2 (January 26 in the US). What’s it about?

I can think of at least five answers.

It’s about Olivia Randall, a defense attorney whose ex-fiance, Jack, reappears in her life after twenty years in a big, shocking way. He’s been arrested for a triple murder and needs her help.

It’s also sort of about mass gun violence. Jack is accused of opening fire on a sports field in downtown Manhattan. Perhaps not coincidentally, his own wife was killed in a mass shooting three years earlier.

It’s also about anger. Olivia is certain Jack’s innocent because she knows the kind of person he is: the non-murdering type. But is there really such a type? With enough anger, could even the best of us be driven to kill? When Olivia finds out that one of the victims was connected to the murder of Jack’s wife, she begins to wonder.

THE EX is also about the stories we tell ourselves about our past relationships and how those stories affect our memories. Twenty years ago, Olivia broke Jack’s heart. Since then, she has told herself that she was the bad guy. But as she learns more about Jack’s current situation, she begins to remember him in a different light. How well did she ever really know him?

Those are the things I knew THE EX would be about when I started writing it. But I’m always surprised to finish a book and find out it might be about something else altogether. After taking a step back, I think THE EX might really be about loyalty. Why we stick by people, even when we shouldn’t. Why we betray them, the justifications we create, the unforeseen, life-changing consequences.

I suppose I should have one, short, quippy answer to the obvious question: the so-called elevator-pitch that makes someone want to buy a book. But the best stories are never really about one person or one thing, and different readers can experience an identical story in remarkably different ways.

So what’s THE EX about? Two complicated people who used to be inseparable who became strangers only to be brought together again. And then things happen.

The Ex by Alafair Burke is published in February by Faber & Faber (£12.99)

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