When I tell people my new psychological thriller, The Perfect Wife, is set in Silicon Valley, they’re often surprised. Although I dealt with high-tech minimalism in The Girl Before, and used an American setting – New York – for Believe Me, people associate the psychological genre more with suburban secrets than with San Francisco’s vibrant start-up scene. But once I’d decided to make my two protagonists a driven, successful tech entrepreneur and his beautiful artist wife, I gradually realised that Silicon Valley is the perfect setting for a novel of suspense.
There are the people, for one thing. Think Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Elon Musk – successful tech entrepreneurs are often obsessive, and obsession is one of the basic requirements of a psychological thriller. My tech company founder, Tim Scott, has some of those qualities too. Yet such people can also be strangely attractive – think of Snapchat’s Evan Spiegal dating model Miranda Kerr, or Twitter’s Jack Dorsey and Lily Cole. When Elon Musk proposed to the British actress Tallulah Riley, he’d only known her a few weeks. He didn’t have a ring, so they shook hands on it. (He later bought her three engagement rings, including a small one for everyday.) That was just Musk’s first proposal to Riley, incidentally: after their marriage, and divorce, he proposed again – and was accepted.
Silicon Valley’s a place where women are either idolised or treated horribly, and distasteful though that is, it makes for interesting fiction. Tech companies often call themselves ‘campuses’, with free food, nap pods, all-night hackathons and an all-consuming work ethic.
Not surprisingly, some develop a heavily masculine, even macho culture, often called the ‘brogrammer’ mentality. (It’s worth remembering that Facebook started out as a way to rate women’s attractiveness.)
Yet it’s also a place where the incredible happens every day. At companies like Apple or Google, people’s day jobs are to pursue perfection, bringing to life ideas so beautiful or ground breaking that they become part of humanity’s future. My story starts with Abbie Cullen, the gifted artist wife of the British tech-firm founder Tim, waking up in a hospital bed with no recollection of how she got there. It’s only when Tim reveals that her memories of their marriage are in fact an upload, painstakingly recreated from her social media feeds, that she realises she hasn’t just come around from a car accident. The premise might sound far- fetched: I thought so myself, until I came across a Google patent application for just such a deep-learning intelligence that “be able to mimic the personality of a loved one.” (It’s still under development).
I’ve always been fascinated by fairy stories that end ‘And they lived happily ever after.’ Perhaps because of my love of a good twist, I immediately think, Really? Is anyone’s marriage as straightforward as that? Tim might have the money to make his courtship seem a fairytale, but what happens to someone like that when real life begins? What happens when the pursuit of perfection is compromised by, say, the stress of a Wall Street flotation, or having an autistic son? The Perfect Wife asks the question: how do we cope when the person we married turns out to be less than perfect? And that’s a theme that’s always relevant, wherever in the world we are.
Originally written for Booktopia