Putting Sexual Assault on Trial, in a Fraught One-Woman Case

PRIMA FACIE, by Suzie Miller. Read by Jodie Comer.

For Tessa Ensler, a young hotshot barrister on the rise in London’s criminal courts, the law is a game to be relished. In defending the accused, she sees her role as merely telling the better story: the one that the jury believes. As for the truth of her clients’ claims of innocence, she has been trained not to inquire.

Suzie Miller’s “Prima Facie” — a hit drama last year on Broadway, now expanded into a novel narrated by Jodie Comer, the play’s Tony Award-winning star — hinges on a case in which Tessa inescapably does know the truth. After she is raped by a male colleague who denies it, she takes the stand as a victim. Traumatized and diminished, she is on the receiving end of the undermining questions she has so often asked other women, in service of the men accused of assaulting them.

With a heroine whose surname is a nod to the playwright formerly known as Eve Ensler, the author of “The Vagina Monologues,” this novel, like the stage version, is ultimately a political rallying cry. By fleshing out the 100-minute solo play, though, Miller makes her tale more compelling and human, even if some clunkiness remains. We get a much fuller sense of Tessa, her working-class family and the myriad ways that gender and class mark her as an outsider in the pedigreed legal world.

In the nine-hour-plus audiobook, Comer gets to go deeper with the role; this isn’t a replication of her intrepid stage turn, but a continuation of it. The theatrical production’s fleet physicality has given way to more intimate storytelling at a more leisurely pace. It’s a nimble, beautifully modulated performance, and a showcase for Comer’s facility with voices.

On Broadway, Comer was the main draw for “Prima Facie.” That’s true here, too. With the novel, though, she’s telling the better story.

PRIMA FACIE | By Suzie Miller | Read by Jodie Comer | Macmillan Audio | 9 hours, 15 minutes

Back to top button