A sugar rush/caffeine hit of a book, read while I was ill in bed. Sometimes the dark humour hit the mark; sometimes the story seemed more unpleasantlyA sugar rush/caffeine hit of a book, read while I was ill in bed. Sometimes the dark humour hit the mark; sometimes the story seemed more unpleasantly judgemental about its own characters than anything else (does Apple's weight really have to be used as a punchline quite so often? Isn't it a bit dubious that the Dominican character 'knows about crime' because of her family?) The fandom stuff was very fun, though the language and cultural references are going to be incredibly dated in a couple of years, if not sooner. (And you'd think an author with her finger so firmly on the pulse of fandom culture would realise British teens would be far more likely to use the same US-centric internet vernacular as the main characters than say stuff like 'love', 'mate' and 'bloody hell' every other sentence.) Despite the flaws, I read it all hungrily, and I desperately wanted the girls to get away with it. Enjoyable fluff and very compelling. ...more
The subtitle of The Lonely City, 'Adventures in the Art of Being Alone', has a double meaning: as well as being a book about the experience of lonelinThe subtitle of The Lonely City, 'Adventures in the Art of Being Alone', has a double meaning: as well as being a book about the experience of loneliness itself, this is a book about the role of loneliness in art. The starting point is Olivia Laing's own period of intense loneliness, living in New York after the end of a relationship, bringing to life the so-often-true cliche of being alone in a crowd, isolated and displaced in the centre of one of the world's most populous cities. She makes a study of several artists and photographers, chiefly Edward Hopper, Andy Warhol, David Wojnarowicz and Henry Darger, and also talks peripherally about the work of Valerie Solanas, Josh Harris, Zoë Leonard, Peter Hujar and others. The resulting reflections touch on everything from the evolving role of the internet in society to Laing's own gender identity.
I loved The Lonely City, but it's unusually hard to pin down what's so good about it, partly because it's just such a patchwork of genre components - creative non-fiction, memoir, art history, psychology and sociotechnological commentary are all thrown into the mix. Rather than making the book seem like a hodgepodge of nothing much, this makes it stronger, and like the best of this type of writing, it made me keen to find out more about some of the subjects it touches on. The depth of Laing's research is apparent, but it's the personal ruminations that hit home the hardest. There is a clear line drawn - repeatedly - between solitude and loneliness, a distinction that isn't made often enough. Laing also writes incisively about how an online existence can alleviate and/or crystallise individuals' isolation, avoiding the tedious 'the internet is making everyone lonelier' proselytising that typically pervades writing about that particular subject. Along with her openness about her own thoughts and feelings, these points make Laing's observations feel fresh.
When I came to New York I was in pieces, and though it sounds perverse, the way I recovered a sense of wholeness was not by meeting someone or falling in love, but rather by handling the things that other people had made, slowly absorbing by way of this contact the fact that loneliness, longing, does not mean one has failed, but simply that one is alive.
Recently, when I (briefly) reviewed Emma Jane Unsworth's Animals, I mentioned that I felt so relieved and validated by the ending that I was overwhelmed by a feeling of wanting to actually thank the author for it. I had the same feeling upon finishing The Lonely City. Laing emphasises how much solace she found in the work of her beloved artists, but doesn't suggest this ought to be seen as some sort of cure; there are no solid conclusions about how one 'should' experience, or seek to combat, loneliness. Despite this - actually more likely because of it - The Lonely City is an incredibly reassuring read for anyone who has ever been lonely or struggled with their own experience of solitude.
I received an advance review copy of The Lonely City from the publisher through NetGalley....more
My impending trip to Riga gave me the perfect pretext for reading this (though it's actually the second in the Wallander series; I haven't yet read thMy impending trip to Riga gave me the perfect pretext for reading this (though it's actually the second in the Wallander series; I haven't yet read the first). Good job I wasn't relying on it as a guide to the city, as it was written prior to Latvia's emancipation from the Soviet Union in 1991, and portrays Riga as a depressing totalitarian wasteland in which every room is bugged and you're liable to get kidnapped by the Russian mafia at any point. It certainly conjures up a very vivid image, just not of a place I would want to visit. I loved it as a crime novel, though - the sheer amount of detail makes it very absorbing, and the plot, though too convoluted to even outline here, is perfectly paced. I can see why the Wallander books have become near-ubiquitously popular; the character is very interesting but completely believable, with so many realistic imperfections. I'm definitely going to read more of these....more
What I thought this book was: A literary novel (maybe that elusive thing, a 'literary thriller') about a teenage girl who is sucked into a sinister cuWhat I thought this book was: A literary novel (maybe that elusive thing, a 'literary thriller') about a teenage girl who is sucked into a sinister cult, based on the Manson Family, and how the rest of her life is shaped by the experience. What this book actually is: A coming-of-age story about a lonely, unloved girl in late-60s California, with the cult, with which the protagonist is only intermittently involved, as more of a backdrop to the process of growing up and abandoning the naivety of childhood. I'd have liked this more, I think, if there was no difference between the two.
The story begins with Evie's first sighting of the girls of the title. They're noticeable in a strange way, 'like royalty in exile... They were messing with an uneasy threshold, prettiness and ugliness at the same time'. Evie is mesmerised, seeing a glimpse of something weird and exciting. She is the child of wealthy parents - her grandmother was a famous actress - but she is neglected, has few friends, and feels eternally clueless. Though it happens more slowly than you'd think, she eventually manages to befriend the girls (or is recruited by them) and is drawn into the orbit of the Manson figure, Russell. (I should probably mention here that her story is actually told in flashback - in an unspecified later time period, while a middle-aged Evie is staying at a friend's house, an encounter with two young people brings memories of her adolescence flooding back - but the 'modern' sections don't have much of a plot or really add anything to the story.)
The premise itself makes for a certain level of detachment. Evie's involvement with Russell and the girls has to be enough for her to have a story worth telling - but she's never at the heart of things, the point being that she slips under the radar, evades suspicion, and is able to live out the rest of her life in what passes for a normal way, without media attention. As a result, there's a frustrating lack of focus on what life is really like within the cult. Evie is too peripheral to really know, and whole stretches of the story concentrate instead on her home life. Russell is portrayed as a magnetic person, but beyond having a charismatic personality, there's little about what exactly he does to instill rapturous devotion in his followers.
That's true to how Evie feels, though: rather than being a devotee of Russell, she admires, is possibly in love with, his closest acolyte, Suzanne. I think that unexpected perspective was what I liked most about The Girls. Evie's determination to cling to Suzanne, no matter what, is made wholly believable. Suzanne herself is an utterly fascinating character, beautifully depicted, just fleshed out enough to keep her intriguing but enigmatic. You can never quite see every side of her.
Let's talk about the way the book is written. The Girls employs a style that seems to be increasingly popular in contemporary fiction, though I'm not sure exactly how to categorise it, nor what the source of it might be. Words with superficially pleasing rhythms are absolutely everywhere, words like 'skittered' and 'scudded'. Movement is evoked all the time, every emotion described as if it has a physical manifestation. Instead of explaining that a boy she knows has friends who have gone to fight in Vietnam, Evie says, obliquely, 'he had older friends who'd disappeared in sluggish jungles, rivers thick with sediment'. She describes eating 'in the blunt way I had as a child - a glut of spaghetti, mossed with cheese. The nothing jump of soda in my throat' - which, yes, is an evocative/creative way of describing something very simple, but also kind of unnecessary and not quite logical. Likewise 'the air was candied with silence' - a pretty sentence, but what does it (what can it) mean? I could go on.
I don't completely hate this sort of writing, and it's perhaps unfair to single this book out when this style is so popular, and my annoyance with it is largely down to having encountered it so many times. But I can't write this review without mentioning the fact that it irritated me all the way through. It seems unlikely the real Evie would think about or write her own story like this; it's so unnatural, like every line has been rewritten with a thesaurus close at hand, and it gets exhausting. Just once I'd have liked a straightforward description instead of some weird metaphor or string of unusual adjectives.
I enjoyed The Girls as a quick bit of fluff. It hooked me easily, it's got a powerful atmosphere, and of course the premise is interesting. But I found it all a bit thin and overwritten, and it feels as though it's been shaped to conform to certain trends - the past-and-present narrative structure, the flowery style. I love cult stories, but this didn't tell the story I wanted to read. Go in expecting a coming-of-age tale, and I suspect you will feel more richly rewarded.
I received an advance review copy of The Girls from the publisher through NetGalley....more
Just a short story, but an atmospheric, powerful one. The first-person POV of a small-town observer is used brilliantly to tell the tale of a mysterioJust a short story, but an atmospheric, powerful one. The first-person POV of a small-town observer is used brilliantly to tell the tale of a mysterious newcomer who has a penchant for painting oddly realistic animals. The creepiness is kept to a minimum, which makes the climax all the more effective. I'm marking Michael Marshall Smith down as a writer whose short stories I'd like to investigate further....more
I completely breezed through this debut novel, swallowing it practically whole (I like food/eating metaphors for reading; they always feel incrediblyI completely breezed through this debut novel, swallowing it practically whole (I like food/eating metaphors for reading; they always feel incredibly apt to me somehow). It's about a girl who's raised in a small commune at Foxlowe, the ancestral home of one of the group's founders. As is often the case in books like this (see: The First Book of Calamity Leek, to which this bears more than a passing resemblance), the protagonist, Green - that's her suitably hippyish 'Foxlowe name' - is the one who is fiercely protective of 'the Family' and refuses to rebel when the the other children start to reject its practices.
The story is addictive (it helps that I'm a huge fan of stories depicting cults/communes) and it's easy to get swept up in the atmosphere. The relationships are well-formed, and Foxlowe itself is balanced so effectively: on the one hand there's the horror of the gruesome punishments Freya inflicts on the children; on the other, the community has an idyllic, enchanted air; there's something haunting and oddly beguiling about the way it's portrayed. Once Green leaves Foxlowe, the plot develops in ways I didn't anticipate. You can see exactly why she would have trouble letting go of her past; her new life is scarcely better than the old one, it's just that she's restricted in completely different ways. (view spoiler)[It's weird, given the absolutely horrible fate of Blue, but I found Mel's suffocating behaviour towards Jess the most disturbing thing in the book. (hide spoiler)] The contrasts - and, in the first half, the question of what happened to Foxlowe - make the whole thing incredibly tense and gripping.
If you don't like child narrators, you might not get on with Green's rather naive language, particularly the substitution of very randomly chosen words with Foxlowe-specific equivalents (for example grown/ungrown instead of adults/children), a device which seems rather contrived when the members of the commune use proper English for almost everything else. And indeed, it's easy to question Green's eloquence when she has supposedly never learned to read or write properly. But I'm nitpicking; once I got swept up in the story, I forgot about all this.
This is one to watch out for; I couldn't put it down, and stayed up way longer than I should have so I could finish it. The ending is delicious - (view spoiler)[though again extremely similar to Calamity Leek(hide spoiler)].
I received an advance review copy of Foxlowe from the publisher through NetGalley.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
Michelle Paver's Dark Matter is one of my favourite ghost stories, but I admit, when I heard about Thin Air, I had doubts that she could recreate thMichelle Paver's Dark Matter is one of my favourite ghost stories, but I admit, when I heard about Thin Air, I had doubts that she could recreate the same magic. The story just sounded too similar - Dark Matter was about a group of five men embarking on an Arctic expedition in the 1930s; Thin Air is about a group of five men embarking on a mountain-climbing expedition in the 1930s - and I worried that the new story would effectively be a retread of the old one. Inevitably, there are similarities between the two, but Thin Air is so full of atmosphere, so absorbing, that it develops its own character very quickly.
The mountain at the centre of this story is Kangchenjunga; the tale is narrated by the team's doctor, Stephen, writing in his journal. His altogether more successful and glamorous brother, Kits, is the group's fearless leader. They're following in the footsteps of an expedition that went notoriously awry, and from the beginning, their mission is under something of a dark cloud after they're warned off Kangchenjunga by one of the only men to have survived that previous attempt. It's not long before strange events convince at least one of the group that they're not quite as isolated (or as safe) as they think. There is a particular scene that makes a rucksack scarier than you could ever imagine; like Dark Matter, Thin Air plays with themes of isolation and paranoia, and how these feelings can magnify each other.
At a time of high anxiety, reading this (earlier than I intended; it's out in October) was a sort of treat to myself, and it worked perfectly, the sinister atmosphere completely engulfing all other worries. Thin Air is a proper ghost story, the good old-fashioned type, to be read under a blanket with a candle flickering, and every detail of its creepy, compelling tale is note-perfect - the historical detail, the slow build-up, the delicious dread of the spooky scenes. It is scary, but scary in the way the way of things you actively seek out to scare you when you're young; indeed, probably a little more so than Dark Matter, this feels like a book that could be enjoyed by readers of all ages (which makes sense given Paver's extensive back catalogue of children's fiction). I'm so glad Paver has written another ghost story, and I hope it won't be the last.
I received an advance review copy of Thin Air from the publisher through NetGalley....more
Set in a near-future America which appears to have become one big dilapidated theme park, the bizarre stories (and novella) of CivilWarLand in Bad DecSet in a near-future America which appears to have become one big dilapidated theme park, the bizarre stories (and novella) of CivilWarLand in Bad Decline are by turns funny, disturbing and moving. Saunders' characters are invariably weird, eccentric, even occasionally horrifying, yet they end up feeling more human than the majority of fictional characters. It's also satisfying to find I can now detect Saunders' influence in the work of so many other writers I admire - to name a few: Lindsay Hunter's short stories, Kaaron Warren's novel Slights, and recent favourite You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine by Alexandra Kleeman.
My favourites from this collection were the title story and 'The 400-Pound CEO', and I also found the insightful author's note - which is really another story, albeit an autobiographical one about the creation of this book - to be just as enjoyable to read as the stories themselves.
If only I could stop hoping. If only I could say to my heart: Give up. There's always opera. There's angel-food cake and neighborhood children caroling, and the look of autumn leaves on a wet roof. But no. My heart's some kind of idiotic fishing bobber.
I believe he [God] takes more pleasure in his perfect creatures, and cheers them on like a brainless dad as they run roughshod over the rest of us. He gives us a need for love, and no way to get any. He gives us a desire to be liked, and personal attributes that make us utterly un-likable. Having placed his flawed and needy children in a world of exacting specifications, he deducts the difference between what we have and what we need from our hearts and our self-esteem and our mental health....more
The unique idea at the heart of this story is instantly intriguing. Mark-Alem, scion of the powerful Quprili family, is given a job at a prestigious iThe unique idea at the heart of this story is instantly intriguing. Mark-Alem, scion of the powerful Quprili family, is given a job at a prestigious institution: the Tabir Sarrail, or Palace of Dreams. Transcriptions of citizens' dreams are collected here in their thousands, then pored over, analysed and interpreted for indications that they contain some divine prediction, a message of glory (or doom) for the Empire. The eventual aim of this mammoth task is to identify the 'Master-Dream', the most meaningful and portentous of them all, which is delivered to the Sultan on a weekly basis.
Unsurprisingly, the novel has often been compared to the works of Orwell and Kafka. Mark-Alem's job is bureaucratic yet bizarre, and cloaked in so much mystery that at first, he doesn't even know what he's supposed to be doing, or the way around the vast Palace, or what all the oddly-named departments do. There are recurring scenes in which he wanders the corridors, lost and disorientated. Parallels are drawn between being swallowed up by this place and the experience of sleep - or even death. Having become accustomed to its strange ways, Mark-Alem finds real life comparatively insipid: 'the whole world seemed to have lost all its colour, as if after a long illness... How tedious, grasping and confined this world seemed in comparison with the one he now served!' Yet when he's at work, the dream transcripts often seem incomprehensible to him. At times he marks them at random, and it's this cavalier approach to the task that ultimately brings about the plot's bloody climax. Its meaning as a political allegory is clear, but the novel is always equally enjoyable as an imaginative (often quite suspenseful) story.
Had this been a smoother read, my rating would be higher, as I really liked the story. However, I thought it had a stilted and awkward feel all the way through, and I'm convinced this can only be the result of it having been translated twice - this English version is not translated directly from the original Albanian, but from the the French edition. There were a couple of unusual recurring phrases that really jarred, and seemed like inaccurate choices; certain words were repeated with irritating frequency. I found all of this really offputting and I'm afraid it also makes me less likely to read more Kadare (though I'd first need to establish whether all of them have been through the weird Albanian-French-English treatment)....more
Another paean to being young(ish) and not knowing what you want to do with your life, this debut is less acerbic than other recent novels of millenniaAnother paean to being young(ish) and not knowing what you want to do with your life, this debut is less acerbic than other recent novels of millennial ennui - such as Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere - but no less enjoyable. If we're using labels, it's most accurate to call it chick lit; heroine Claire Flannery is like Bridget Jones for the 2010s (this is a good thing). (Since writing this, I've discovered that comparison has been made all over the place and is also featured in the US blurb for the book. It's accurate, though that shouldn't be taken to mean the book is exactly the same sort of thing as Bridget Jones's Diary.)
At the end of her 20s or the beginning of her 30s (I'm guessing; her age is never given), Claire quits her job - an amorphous marketing sort of thing - without another one to go to. With vague hopes of finding something 'meaningful', she winds up doing nothing all day, falling out with her mum, and accusing her boyfriend of cheating. And that's it, really; not so much an incisive, cynical examination of modern living as a charming comedy of errors. Claire, her boyfriend and family are all pretty well off (though not rich enough to keep 'not working' indefinitely, especially not in London), so there's never a real sense of actual peril, leaving the humour of the story to take centre stage. Again, the details - voicemails from Claire's mum, excruciatingly awful dinner parties - are pure Bridget Jones. But Owens' running commentaries on relationships and office life are surprisingly sharp for such a warm and feather-light story.
The narrative is also peppered with small observations and, I suppose, mini-stories Claire makes up as she goes about her days. Most are self-contained; many would fit into the category of microfiction. I have to admit I found them a bit distracting. Perhaps because the main narrative is often genuinely hilarious, many of them seem like non sequiturs or jokes without punchlines. That's my main complaint; in an alternative universe where I'm the editor of this book, I'd cut all of these sections.
Not Working is funny, incredibly readable and bound to be super-popular. It wasn't what I expected, but I was actually quite glad of that in the end - if I'd known to expect a chick-lit/comedy hybrid, it's unlikely I'd have read it, and I'd have missed out on a very entertaining book.
(I keep telling myself I've got to stop making references to other reviews in my reviews, but the Goodreads reviews for this - so far - really do make for fascinating reading in themselves. It's so interesting seeing how people of similar ages categorise themselves completely differently in terms of what generation they belong to and what they feel they should be 'relating' to. It's also interesting to see how the way the book has been sold to readers, or the angles from which they have approached it due to existing impressions - the Bridget Jones comparison vs. the idea that it's got some profound state-of-the-generation message at its heart - have affected responses.)
I received an advance review copy of Not Working from the publisher through NetGalley....more
A deceptive book - at the beginning, as it opens with a woman boarding a flight to Casblanca, Morocco, you'd never imagine it could be as breathlesslyA deceptive book - at the beginning, as it opens with a woman boarding a flight to Casblanca, Morocco, you'd never imagine it could be as breathlessly unputdownable as it is. Imagine a cross between Rachel Cusk's Outline and The Talented Mr. Ripley; the chameleonic protagonist jumps from identity to identity, latching on to acquaintance after acquaintance, and performs increasingly elaborate deceptions, moving through scenes from a shabby hotel to a movie set to a desert tour. Suspension of disbelief is essential, as the protagonist (who remains unnamed, unless you count about six fake names...) makes some ludicrously terrible decisions - accepting someone else's possessions and passport from the police as though they are her own, lying to the American Embassy and so on. And then, of course, there's the fact that in the space of just a few days, she goes from losing everything to being the stand-in for a Hollywood star. The whole story is told in second person, so it takes longer than it perhaps should to realise that the protagonist is probably an unreliable narrator - or whatever it is you call an unreliable narrator when they are not, in fact, narrating. That constant 'you' works cleverly by implicating the reader in the protagonist's every decision, carrying the story along in gripping fashion despite the often outlandish turns taken by the plot.
Summed up in a sentence, The Diver's Clothes Lie Empty is an intriguing, taut novella that's infuriating in the best possible way. The first thing I've read by Vendela Vida, and unlikely to be the last....more
Two former lovers end up sat next to one another on a train - the 6:41 to Paris. Twenty years earlier, their affair ended badly, but they are now bothTwo former lovers end up sat next to one another on a train - the 6:41 to Paris. Twenty years earlier, their affair ended badly, but they are now both much changed. The narrative switches between their points of view as, without speaking to one another, both relive their short relationship and the disastrous events of the night they broke up. The publisher's blurb for this describes it in an odd way - 'a psychological thriller about past romance' - which isn't, in my opinion, accurate; it's more like a smart, subtle romantic comedy, though it's just as compelling as a thriller. It's also rather too short, and I would've liked to read more about these two fascinating characters, but the book's brevity would, admittedly, make it absolutely perfect for a train journey....more
Flashback to late 2013, when Lucie Whitehouse, an author whose first two books I had adored, published a third novel titled Before We Met. Before We MFlashback to late 2013, when Lucie Whitehouse, an author whose first two books I had adored, published a third novel titled Before We Met. Before We Met came out in the post-Gone Girl scramble to find the next bestselling entry in a then-new genre, the domestic thriller, and was a bit of a departure from her previous novels, both in terms of style - it was very stripped-down where her others were florid - and the way it was presented and marketed. I think enough time has passed that I can admit I didn't particularly like Before We Met and felt pressured into being more positive about it than I felt. In fact, at the time I was worried that my review praised the book too much, although reading back over it now, I think my doubts show very clearly.
I wasn't actually going to bother reading Keep You Close. I felt it would be very much along the same lines as its predecessor, and although I was aware it was coming out, I didn't pay much attention to it when considering the books I wanted to read in 2016. I only decided to give it a go when I received an email offering me early access to the review copy available on NetGalley. I'm really glad I did, because this is a huge improvement on Before We Met, more engaging in every way. It has enough of the hallmarks of a domestic thriller that it will appeal to fans of that genre, but it also brings back a lot of what I liked so much about the author's writing in the first place. The result is a readable and thoroughly absorbing story that succeeds at everything that matters in a book like this: creating characters you care about, building up atmosphere, and keeping you guessing until the end is near.
Keep You Close focuses on Rowan, who learns at the beginning of the book that her old schoolfriend, Marianne Glass, has died in what appears to be either an accident or suicide, having fallen from the roof of her home. Knowing that Marianne suffered from vertigo, Rowan is convinced there is more to her death than the police appear to have concluded, and when she finds that Marianne posted her a cryptic note shortly before she died, she embarks on her own investigation, seeking answers from Marianne's family, friends and colleagues. But there are also questions around Rowan and Marianne's friendship; why haven't they spoken in ten years, having spent their teens and early twenties as close as sisters? What is the terrible thing Marianne did that Rowan alludes to, and why did it impact their relationship in such a way?
The story that unfolds portrays Rowan as a rather lonely character whose youth was defined by her obsession with the Glass family. And you can see why: the story is insistent about their charm and appeal, and it's difficult not to be drawn in yourself by their effortless perfection, their lives an amalgamation of everything a person like Rowan (and probably many readers) might aspire to, from intellectual brilliance and professional success to beauty and wealth to tight, blissfully happy family bonds. It's also so evocative and persuasive about Oxford that it could probably be sold as a tourist guide to the city. I was very glad to see this kind of vivid description back in Whitehouse's writing after the coldness of Before We Met.
So, is it a domestic thriller? It's clearly packaged as one, with that cover design and a title that could slot into any number of thriller authors' back catalogues (I'm not 100% on this, but I don't think the phrase 'keep you close' even appears in the book, nor does it particularly make sense when applied to the plot). For much of the first two-thirds it plays out as what I have come to think of as more of an old-fashioned mystery, one in which the protagonist digs for clues and finds more questions at every turn; there's a single (potential?) crime and a number of suspects, ranging from members of Marianne's family to a famous artist who was painting her portrait. It all reminded me strongly of the novels of my favourite crime writer, Erin Kelly - specifically a cross between The Poison Tree and The Burning Air (the heady student nostalgia of the former, the themes of envy and greed from the latter, and both stories' focus on characters who idealise/idolise others and their families).
But in true thriller style, there is A Big Twist. And I have to say, I really didn't see it coming. No further comments on that, lest I spoil it for anyone else.
This was a great first book of 2016. Enjoyable, unpredictable, a story I could get properly absorbed in. If, like me, you weren't exactly enchanted by Before You Met, but you often enjoy stuff in this genre (and especially if you like Erin Kelly's work), I'd urge you to give Keep You Close a try.
I received an advance review copy of Keep You Close from the publisher through NetGalley....more
Last year, I wrote a brief review of Kate Morton's The Lake House in which I said that two things are inevitable when authors recycle the same formuLast year, I wrote a brief review of Kate Morton's The Lake House in which I said that two things are inevitable when authors recycle the same formula: a) you'll compare every detail of each new book to its predecessors, and b) there will come a point when said formula starts to feel tired and past its best.
I was thinking about this while reading F.G. Cottam's latest, The Colony: Dark Resurrection. I've now read 12 of Cottam's horror novels (compared with five by Morton - books that is, not horror novels, although it would certainly be an interesting shift in subject matter if she published one), starting with The House of Lost Souls in 2009. After 12 books with similar themes written by the same author, you'd think I might be getting bored, but it isn't happening; I am still just as gripped by them as I always was. Perhaps this is partly down to the inherently exciting nature of the horror genre, wherein terrifying apparitions, demonic rituals and intensely creepy moments of suspense are par for the course. While I'll probably never love another of the author's novels like I do Dark Echo (published 2008, read by me 2009), I continue to be excited and surprised by them and look forward to every new one with undiminished enthusiasm. I'm obviously not the only one, as he has a loyal fanbase of five-star Amazon reviewers.
Over the last few years, Cottam's work has also developed in an unexpected, but welcome, way. The author seems to have made a noticeable move towards placing women at the centre of his stories - on the sides of both good and evil. Female characters in Cottam books have always been very well-drawn and convincing, but his latter works in particular have been dominated and led by them. The latest of these characters is Ruthie Gillespie, introduced in last year's novella The Going and the Rise. Here, she's added to an ensemble cast which includes the remaining members of the fated expedition depicted in The Colony (2012).
Ruthie is an author of books for children, and she's enrolled on a writer's retreat organised by a shady character named Dennis Thorpe. Indeed, he's so off-puttingly shady that Ruthie ends up pulling out of the program. The location of the 'retreat' turns out to be New Hope Island - the haunted setting of The Colony - so it's perhaps unsurprising when the whole group goes missing. While several characters from the previous expedition journey back to New Hope (finding a surprising ally in the process), Ruthie embarks on an investigation of her own. In the same vein as The Colony, this makes good use of a variety of settings - the island is as atmospheric as ever, but there's a great interlude set in Ireland, and my favourite scenes involved Ruthie visiting a seemingly innocuous village bookshop.
This is a great horror novel, and as ever I will sign off by saying that if you enjoy horror/ghost stories and you haven't read Cottam, you should. Being a sequel, The Colony: Dark Resurrection is perhaps not the best place for newcomers to start: I recommend Dark Echo (of course), Brodmaw Bay and The Lazarus Prophecy. There's also the two novellas published in December last year - the aforementioned The Going and the Rise, and An Absence of Natural Light - which are affordable and make perfect samplers....more
A terrific book - as readable and entertaining as it is intelligent, so basically exactly what I want in a piece of fiction. There's a scintillating film noir feel to everything that happens around our narrator, psychiatrist David Manne, in what is indubitably a very Paul Austeresque plot. The book opens with a few pages of pure dialogue, as Manne is informed his ex-wife, Broadway star Abby, has died. He's still preoccupied by this when he agrees to do a favour for a detective friend, and is drawn into a bizarre domestic scene in which - he believes - all is not as it seems; is the distraught woman in the next room really the patient's wife, or merely an actress hired to play the part? What of the man's insistence that his name is not Esterhazy, but Smith? Troubled by the incident, he decides to help the patient, a mistake that sends him plunging headlong into a deep - inescapable? - identity crisis and a conspiracy that may exist only in his mind. All of this takes place against the backdrop of 1940s New York, rendered as a maze-like, shifting contrivance - I couldn't help but see it in black and white (my imagined soundtrack to the book was Artie Shaw's 'Nightmare'), but Wilcken's Manhattan also reminded me of the Paris streets in that scene in Inception, bending and folding in on themselves.
The Reflection is cleverly written to ensure the reader is often just as discombobulated as the protagonist. The potentially off-putting opening, wherein there's an immediate challenge - to figure out who's speaking, why we should care and, in the absence of context, what any of it means - is just the first example. Memories and scenes recur in different situations and settings as Manne (if he is, in fact, Manne) loses his grip on reality - or is an increasingly hapless victim of some villainous scheme, depending on how you interpret the story's many twisty developments. His suspicions that people around him are actors turns out to be something of a motif; he continually describes his surroundings as false, comparing streets to movie sets, the things on them to 'stage trappings', and people he meets to 'actors from my past... continually coming back in different form'. Everything seems to overlap. Reading a book in which phrases and descriptions are repeated, often with very slight modifications, creates constant déjà vu. In this way, Wilcken employs language to create the same round-in-circles frustration Manne experiences. The reader leaps towards 'clues' just as Manne does, only to be thwarted again.
With its cinematic atmosphere and relentless intrigue, The Reflection is an incredibly enjoyable story - but it doesn't have to be just that; you can read it in many different ways. It's certainly a book that would bear, even benefit from, repeated reads. And of course, I now want to read everything else Wilcken's written....more
Stories about teenagers are a tricky thing. Should they always - no matter how dark and depraved - be categorised as young adult fiction, merely by diStories about teenagers are a tricky thing. Should they always - no matter how dark and depraved - be categorised as young adult fiction, merely by dint of their protagonists' ages? (The controversy over the 18 certificate given to the film The Diary of a Teenage Girl springs to mind.) Like the occasional misidentification of literary novels as thrillers because of the presence of certain themes, the assumption that all books with teenage characters are YA tends to irritate me. But in the case of Girls on Fire, I think that assumption might be the best way to view the book.
This novel is a typical narrative of teenage rebellion in which a 'bad girl', Lacey, leads a 'good girl', Hannah - later rechristened Dex - astray. Of course there are twists in the tale, but many of them are equally predictable in their own way. I don't know quite how to sum it up, genre-wise - maybe I need a shelf for coming-of-age novels, or poisonous one-sided friendships, or just stories about teenage lives. The plot's starting point, the question of why the local school's beloved 'golden boy' committed suicide, is a mystery that's eventually explained, but it is irrelevant for much of the story. Dex and Lacey's bond is more the point. They take turns narrating, in chapters that cast light on different aspects of their characters. Lacey, a hero in Dex's eyes, appears first as manipulative and bitchy, then resolves into a tragic figure; Dex, the 'nobody', appears honest, a victim, and resolves into an unreliable narrator.
Robin Wasserman has previously penned a swathe of YA novels, but Girls on Fire is described on her website as her 'debut novel for adults'; nevertheless, at the time of writing, it has been shelved predominantly as young adult on Goodreads, and it feels far better suited to a teenage reader. Retrospectively, the author's existing backround in YA fiction makes perfect sense - Girls on Fire is positively gleeful about not needing to be PG-rated, piling on the underage sex and endless swearing, violence and gore, orgies and vicious bullying. It's much like Lacey herself - her nonconformist posturing and, later, her devil-worshipper act, the ways in which she tries so hard to be shocking but never quite manages to convince anyone other than a handful of her peers.
That said: Girls on Fire is compelling, occasionally even incandescent. The setting, the sleepy town of Battle Creek, is the most beautifully realised thing about the book; certain places, such as the woods and the lake, are thick with atmosphere. Indeed, the things and objects in the story - the music, the clothes, Lacey's car - are more tangible than the protagonists. It's set in the early 90s, so Lacey's obsession with Nirvana makes Kurt Cobain practically a supporting character, and the 'Satanic panic' of that era provides a backdrop to the plot, heightening local parents' suspicion of Lacey and Dex, turning their grunge makeovers into something deeper and more sinister.
Although I keep on saying I'm trying harder to stop being such a sucker for hype, I fell for the the spiel about this one. 'A mini Thelma & Louise as directed by David Lynch', one early review had it. As my Goodreads and Twitter feeds fill up with rave reviews, I have to give a resounding shrug. It's absolutely fine, but for me, it lacked the originality or power that would really have made it a memorable story. Two stars, on Goodreads, is supposed to mean 'it was okay', and that's how my rating is intended; this is not at all a bad book, just assuredly not a book for me, and my main complaint is that I feel like the marketing campaign duped me into reading a story that really belongs to a younger audience.
If you liked this, you'll also like / If you didn't like this, you might prefer... - Gillian Flynn's Dark Places (my favourite of Flynn's books) is the very obvious comparison, with many similarities to Girls on Fire, including a truly unflinching portrait of the lives of teens, copious amounts of sex/drugs/violence etc, a small-town setting, and suspected Satanism. - Things We Have in Common by Tasha Kavanagh also focuses on the obsession a 'nobody' has with a much cooler/more popular girl, although the trajectory of the plot is very different. It's a story I found simultaneously more believable, weirder, and more exciting than this one. - The Secret Place by Tana French is a compelling adult mystery which nevertheless keeps a close, emotive focus on the friendships and rivalries within a group of teenage girls. French's attempts to ape 2010s teenagers' patterns of speech are hit and miss, but when she talks about their emotions and what they care about most, the magic and horror of being that age, she's so spot on it can make for painful flashbacks.
I received an advance review copy of Girls on Fire from the publisher through NetGalley....more
Quick trashy fun, a book I breezed through in a couple of hours. Much more of a psychological thriller than a horror novel, despite its nomination forQuick trashy fun, a book I breezed through in a couple of hours. Much more of a psychological thriller than a horror novel, despite its nomination for Best Horror in the Goodreads Choice Awards, which (along with a handful of five-star reviews popping up in my feed) is what made me take notice of it. The story is about a family who go to live on a tiny, virtually inaccessible island off the coast of Skye. The parents, Sarah and Angus, are still grieving after the death of one of their twin daughters a year ago. The remaining daughter, Kirstie, is coping rather differently, sometimes claiming she is her sister Lydia, leading Sarah to fear she misidentified the daughter who died. The perspective switches from Sarah to Angus and back again, each keeping secrets, each suspecting the other of terrible things. The 'horror' is minimal, though the setting certainly belongs in a ghost story: a half-derelict cottage on an island surrounded by mist, mudflats and mountains. There are some good creepy moments - especially the singing, and Sarah watching Kirstie in the playground - but I would have preferred many more of those and much less 'husband and wife lying to one another' stuff.
I can't finish this review without mentioning the punctuation. What the hell was going on there?! All those misplaced colons (SO MANY OF THEM), commas, dashes, double question marks... The other dodgy thing is that the plot eventually boils down to the idea that (view spoiler)[Sarah's sex drive is what killed her daughter. The references to Sarah always wanting sex with Angus are clearly meant to act as some sort of foreshadowing, but they make the eventual reveal of What Happened That Night seem rather more distateful than if they hadn't been there at all (hide spoiler)].["br"]>["br"]>...more
This novel is a standalone story, not related to the author's Thóra Guðmundsdóttir series. If you read the blurb for this English translation, the ploThis novel is a standalone story, not related to the author's Thóra Guðmundsdóttir series. If you read the blurb for this English translation, the plot is outlined in a manner that heavily suggests it has a horror slant; in this it appears more similar to another standalone book of the author's, I Remember You, than her crime novels. In fact, it has nowhere near as much horror in it as I Remember You, and is nowhere near as scary, but it's also much tighter and more coherent.
There are two strands to the plot. One takes place in the present day, and follows Ódinn, a single dad, as he grapples with the challenge of caring for his daughter Rún and, at work (the State Supervisory Agency, only vaguely described) investigates the events at Krókur, a care home for delinquent boys which shut down in the 1970s. He's inherited the case from a colleague who died, and uncovers increasingly strange and tantalising details as he digs through her files. Plot strand no.2 is set in 1974, at Krókur itself, and follows Aldís, a young cleaner who gets unwisely involved with one of the boys living there. But there's also the mystery of her employers and that rumour about their baby...
It's hard to get a handle on what I liked so much about The Undesired - I think it was simply exactly what I needed at the time I chose to read it. It flows effortlessly, and isn't hampered by the inconsistent characterisation and/or excess of detail that stopped me from loving the author's other books even though I found parts of them excellent. It has proper mystery elements (what went down at Krókur? Was the 'accidental' death of Ódinn's ex-wife actually something more sinister?) and supernatural traces which are helped along by the atmospheric setting of Krókur - miles from anywhere, snowbound, with things that go bump in the night. It all kept me turning the pages, and at the end I wished there were more books featuring Ódinn's investigations (view spoiler)[though that's impossible, as anyone who's read it will see (hide spoiler)]. That's another thing I liked - the dark and surprising ending.
The Undesired is eerie rather than frightening, and all the more effective for it. My favourite Yrsa Sigurðardóttir book yet. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
When I began this review, I wrote this whole spiel about how I was worried about reading Lover because I loved Raverat's Signs of Life so much and IWhen I began this review, I wrote this whole spiel about how I was worried about reading Lover because I loved Raverat's Signs of Life so much and I had such high expectations for it and I was (kind of) right to worry because I just found this book to be fine, just fine, and that in itself is depressing when you loved an author's previous book so much you want to shove it into the hands of every self-proclaimed avid reader you meet. But halfway through the review I realised the 'problem' with Lover, the reason I just liked rather than loved it, is simply that it wasn't written for me. It's the grown-up version of Signs of Life, the version that got promoted to director, got married and had kids. Where its predecessor was emotionally eviscerating and raw and powerful, Lover is measured and mature, cool and lightly humorous.
It actually covers similar thematic territory to Signs of Life, albeit from a different perspective. We follow the narrator, Kate, as her family life unravels after the discovery of some suspicious emails on her husband's computer. When she can't stop digging, she uncovers a history of duplicity that seems both endless and unimaginably complex. At the same time, she's floundering in her job, an executive position at a hotel group. This particular thread was my favourite thing about the plot. Struggling to stay afloat in a crowded market, the company adopts a series of increasingly misguided, hare-brained policies, becoming more like something out of a sitcom as the story goes on.
It's all done with a very light touch, but it retains a firm hold on the story it is actually telling. And there are some great lines, such as Kate's spot-on description of a midlife crisis as 'the gap between who you wished to be and who you really are; the life you'd hoped for and the life you actually got'. It's not a revolutionary idea, but I don't think I've seen it presented with quite the clarity and simplicity Raverat employs. Lover is an elegantly told story, a moving examination of relationships, filled with quietly astute observations. For me, it didn't feel remarkable or significant, but I can't claim any experience of its subject matter - discovering a husband's affair, raising a family, negotiating a divorce - and I'm sure for those who see something of themselves in the story, it will prove more memorable, more poignant. ...more
I've read Chris Priestley's 'Tales of Terror' series in a strange order which has meant I've come to this, the first one published, last. I also likedI've read Chris Priestley's 'Tales of Terror' series in a strange order which has meant I've come to this, the first one published, last. I also liked it the most. The formula used in the other volumes, with a central narrative tying all the other tales together, is at its best here. Naive young Edgar goes to visit his ancient Uncle Montague to listen to his macabre stories, each of which seems to be linked to an object in the room where they sit. Though he feigns bravado, Edgar grows increasingly frightened by his uncle's apparent conviction that all the tales are true, and then it's time for him to go home - if he can make it past the silent children lurking in the woods...
Priestley's stories are suitable for kids, but wonderfully readable for adults too. He has a real way with atmosphere and is fantastic at creating the kind of creepy, spooky, misty ambience essential for a classic ghost story to work. The stories aren't predictable, either: you never know whether their young heroes and heroines will escape evil or meet a grisly end. This was a great read to usher in autumn....more
First published in 1930, I Am Jonathan Scrivener concerns the unlikely adventures of James Wrexham, a disillusioned clerk of almost forty who has achieved little in his uneventful life. Wrexham considers himself not only to be a lonely man but to be defined by loneliness, yet - unlike many lonely people - he feels this has enriched his understanding of others.
I have known years of loneliness and there is a type of experience which is revealed only to the lonely. During those years I was forced to learn a good deal about myself and that knowledge taught me what to look for in others. If you have been behind the scenes, you never regain the illusion which belongs to a person who has always been simply a member of the audience.
Fearing stagnation, Wrexham impulsively decides to apply for the job of secretary to Jonathan Scrivener, a 'gentleman of independent means', via an advertisement in the Times. Much to his surprise, Scrivener employs him without the two of them meeting or even speaking. He's even more baffled when Scrivener, who is abroad, issues instructions that Wrexham should move into his flat immediately, make himself comfortable and fully enjoy the advantages of living in London.
This turns out to involve meeting and socialising with Scrivener's many friends, who turn up at his doorstep (and in some cases inside the flat itself) expecting Scrivener to be there. They are: Pauline, a young, beautiful woman with great innocence and an inquisitive nature; Middleton, an alcoholic troubled by his experiences in the war and the loss of his fiancée; Mrs. Bellamy (Francesca), a woman made famous by the suicide of her extremely wealthy husband; and Rivers, a flighty young man and something of a social butterfly. These characters, Pauline and Francesca in particular, are each richly imagined in their own right. What binds them all together, Wrexham included, is a desire for something more than the conventional life they have been offered, and rejection of the options they have before them. But each of them is uncommonly obsessed with Scrivener, something made to seem all the more unusual because they are so different in character, age, class, and experience.
I Am Jonathan Scrivener is very much a book of its time, and it's one of a very, very small number of books (Mrs Dalloway being another) that really made me think about what life and society were actually like during this period. The contrast between the prudish austerity of the Victorian era, so recent in the memories of many, and what is depicted here as the flippancy and flamboyance of 1920s/30s youth; the aftermath of war and the feeling that society was a new, reshaped thing. Wrexham's narrative often involves commentary on London and on society in general, as he observes life in a city much changed from the London of twenty years before. These observations are compelling as a snapshot of this particular period, a world which had seen cataclysmic change and would be upturned again within a decade. They are sometimes amusing because they're still relevant now - and sometimes because they're very much the opposite.
Wherever I went, whatever the time, there were hordes of people—restless, irritable, or apathetic people—staring into shops, herding into 'buses, or waiting impatiently to cross streets which were congested with every type of vehicle, capable of every variety of speed. The gloom, particularly in the faces of the men, was remarkably apparent. In a thousand unsuspected places he results of ordeal by battle were unmistakably clear. These people were weary, sceptical, disillusioned. They sought for pleasure with all the feverish activity of the unhappy.
I discovered that modern people never smile. They either shriek with laughter or look as if funerals were the order of the day. The dignity of which we English used to boast had vanished; everyone was slightly hysterical and seemed to be waiting for something to happen—half hoping that it would, yet half terrified that it might. The conversations I heard were always about money... a car of any sort was regarded as the highest pinnacle of human felicity. The garage has become our spiritual home.
... Everyone was exceedingly class conscious when the plain fact of the matter was that classes had ceased to exist and everyone now belonged to one vast undifferentiated mass. Democracy had triumphed at the precise moment when everyone had ceased to believe in it. Politics had become a longer word for chaos. At the time of which I am writing the Conservatives were in power... The Labour Party was far too busy preparing its programme, or dealing with revolution in its own ranks, or explaining that it had not stolen its panaceas from the Liberals, to spare any time for effective criticisms of the Government's proposals. Meanwhile, as ever, the country was run by the Civil Service.
At one point, someone makes the remark 'something will turn up - another war or something' - a comment that would have made me roll my eyes had I encountered it in a contemporary novel set in 1930, yet it seems fascinating to find it here.
This is also a very funny book, albeit one with a rather dry sense of humour. One of the most amusing scenes occurs when Rivers takes Wrexham to a Japanese restaurant, a place he clearly finds confounding in the extreme.
It was at this point that the first course appeared. It consisted of odds and ends of dry, very dead-looking things. I tried one which looked like a mushroom of great antiquity, but it turned out to be raw fish.
Although it resembled spaghetti, recent experience had proved that in this restaurant things were not what they seemed. Nor did the fact that one solitary prawn crowned the writhing pyramid inspire me with any confidence. "Looks like spaghetti," said Rivers, "but it isn't." I waited, hoping he would say what it was, but he began to eat in the manner of one performing a rite.
As tactfully as possible I inquired whether coffee in this restaurant in any way resembled the beverage usually associated with the word. On being assured that it did, I accepted a cup. It was coffee. I drank it quickly, fearful that its surroundings might pervert it.
Other highlights include a soup containing 'long weeds' which resemble 'serpents who had died in youth', and desserts that look like 'small, petrified bats'. In fact, many of the book's funniest moments involve Wrexham's interactions with Rivers. He is the 'light relief' character, the least obvious fit for Scrivener's group of friends, seeming to lack the others' yearning for a unique sense of being, and his cheerful volatility appears to bring out the best of Wrexham's dry wit:
Rivers was an entirely new experience for me. Not only had I never met anyone remotely like him, but I had never imagined such a person as a possibility.
... He paused, studied me with the eyes of a superman, then asked if I could lend him a tenner. The atmosphere was so charged with the philosophy of "live dangerously" that I said "yes".
Naturally, given the strange circumstances surrounding Scrivener's character, the plot progresses as a mystery, as Wrexham tries to piece together the reasons for his employer's patronage of such a mismatched group of individuals - not to mention his own mysterious installation in the role of secretary. If this was a modern novel, it would no doubt build to some revelation about Scrivener - he doesn't really exist, or he's several people, or Wrexham himself turns out to be Scrivener, or something. But while the ending holds a small twist, the story is less about this conundrum than the fact that it brings Wrexham into the others' orbit and transforms not only his day-to-day existence, but his whole belief system. Similarly, while it becomes apparent towards the end that Wrexham is an unreliable narrator - something particularly evident when he speaks of a hitherto unmentioned love for Pauline and also alludes to having been affected by an unknown event, years ago, 'which made me content to become a spectator of life' - we never get to know anything more about him than he has disclosed. That event, whatever it was, remains concealed.
In the final few chapters, Wrexham's grip on reality loosens; he becomes both paranoid and intensely philosophical, puzzles out the connections between Scrivener's friends, and at the same time imagines they might really have been Scrivener's accomplices, acting out parts, and that Scrivener's servant is spying on him. I Am Jonathan Scrivener is a sort of mystery, making it a compulsive read, but more than that it is simply a story about people, their psychology, their differences and depths of character, what they might be driven to accept or reject given a wealth of opportunities. Through his characters, especially his brilliantly drawn women, Claude Houghton explores the questions any person might ask about their own life, and depicts a search for meaning and purpose that is timeless - but the fact that this is so clearly positioned in the time it was written gives it an extra layer of interest for the modern reader, since it shows how social turbulence and the after-effects of conflict might contribute to such existential interrogation....more
The Grownup is a short story. A very short story. It originally appeared in Rogues, an anthology edited by George R.R. Martin, in 2014; it's obviously being republished now, separately, because of Flynn's fame - and just in time for Halloween! That doesn't mean there isn't anything to enjoy here - and, I mean, I wanted to read it - but I question the decision to publish it as its own volume. With three pages of praise for Flynn's novels at the front, you're 9% into the ebook before you even get to the beginning.
But what a beginning it is: I didn't stop giving hand jobs because I wasn't good at it. I stopped giving hand jobs because I was the best at it.
Our narrator is nameless; a con woman turned sex worker turned con woman again - she's now posing as a 'psychological intuitive', pretending she can read people's auras and psychically heal their problems. It's easy money, until she meets Susan Burke. Susan opens her appointment by saying, 'my life is falling apart'. Since this is Flynn's approximation of gothic horror, Susan turns out to live in a gloomy mansion, Carterhook Manor - 'all elaborate, carved stonework' and 'long, baleful windows' - and there's something not quite right about her stepson, Miles... The narrator agrees to go to Susan's house (for a decent fee, of course) because she's 'trying to move into the domestic aura-cleansing business', but she gets more than she bargained for with Miles.
The first quarter of The Grownup is Flynn's oeuvre compacted. Seedy settings. A generous dash of sex. A not-like-the-other-girls female narrator with a fucked-up childhood and a sardonic, knowing voice. A main character who balances right in the middle of the likeable-unlikeable divide: she's smart-mouthed, incisive and funny on the one hand; arrogant, smug and judgemental on the other. Are you supposed to be on her side? Hate her guts? Who's the bad guy? Will you see the next twist coming? And the one after that?
I won't give away the exact nature of what happens in the rest of the tale, but I don't think any existing fans of Flynn will be surprised to learn that it's darkly funny, with a couple of big reveals. It's a good little story, but I think Flynn's style works best when she has room to really put down roots for her characters and flesh them out in full grotesque detail. Her characters are her great strength, and a short story like this one - a horror story, an homage to the classics and all their cliches, that by its very nature has to be plot-driven - doesn't showcase them properly. The Grownup needs to be at least three times longer than it is to accommodate everything it tries to squash in: the fascinating protagonist and her history, Susan and her family and their history, the background of Carterhook Manor, the 'horror' itself, and all the gothic tropes the story tries to honour or satirise or whatever. That first quarter is strong, as is the ending, which - like all the direct references to books and book clubs and defining oneself with terms like 'bookworm' - feels like a sly wink at the reader from Flynn, a little bit of a pisstake. But everything between those two points - especially the climax - seems rushed.
The original title of the story, 'What Do You Do?', is a much more appropriate name for it than 'The Grownup', but I suppose it wouldn't have looked quite as snappily Gone Girlish on the cover. At various points within the story, the narrator imagines a future scene in which she's asked that question - how she will answer, how she'll look when she's saying it. I'd sit by a fire and nibble on Brie and say, I'm a small business owner, an entrepreneur, if you will. (Not for nothing did the repeated phrase bring to mind Patrick Bateman answering 'I'm into, oh, murders and executions mainly.')
At the end, another 8% of the ebook is an extract from Dark Places. I've got to admit I'm quite glad I received a review copy of this; it's so slight, I can't quite convince myself it's worth paying for. That, then, is the main reason this is getting a middling score from me. It'd definitely be interesting to read a proper collection of short stories from Flynn....more