It's been ages since I read a thriller this thoroughly addictive. When She Was Bad is exactly the sort of book I want from this genre. I was glued toIt's been ages since I read a thriller this thoroughly addictive. When She Was Bad is exactly the sort of book I want from this genre. I was glued to it, didn't figure out the twist, finished it in a breathless 24 hours and forgot about everything else on my mind while I was reading it.
I wouldn't have given it a second glance if not for this WHSmith blog post highlighting the fact that it's 'office noir' set in a 'toxic workplace'. Bored of psychological thrillers with a marriage or friendship theme, I immediately found this concept pretty exciting, especially when I read that it's set within a recruitment company. I used to work for a headhunting firm, so I was looking forward to recognising details of the characters' work (although on that point, I was disappointed. There's little about what any of the characters actually do - it's the fact they all work together that's important).
There's a wide cast of characters: Paula, Charlie, Sarah, Amira, Ewan and Chloe are the office workers, each with his or her anxieties and troubles, often related to money and/or status. Rachel is the boss from hell; brought in to 'streamline' the team, she employs manipulative tactics to pit the colleagues against each other, including a truly nightmarish team bonding weekend. Then there's Anne, an American child psychologist whose link to the office plotline initially seems nonexistent. Her story is a flashback to the case that kickstarted her career: the assessment of Laurie, a four-year-old girl rescued from a so-called 'House of Horrors' where her parents kept her younger brother shackled in a subterranean cage. Anne's colleagues are convinced Laurie has survived the trauma relatively unscathed and has little recollection of her brother. But Anne sees flashes of worrying dissociative behaviour in Laurie, and suspects she has suppressed and internalised memories of the abuse.
Clearly, you're being set up to think Laurie = Rachel. And yet, this being the type of story it is, it also seems likely the connection won't be that obvious. I often assume that twists in thrillers/mysteries are bound to be easily guessable, and the challenge lies in making the rest of the story interesting regardless of that - but in this case, I was genuinely unsure what was really going on until the last few chapters. Cohen does an excellent job of making each character intriguing, with a hint of hidden depths, despite the fact that with eight main players, none of them get much of the narrative to themselves.
I enjoyed When She Was Bad a lot - if this is 'office noir', more, please....more
As I'm only an occasional, and very picky, reader of YA and children's books, I feel they have to work extra hard to impress me. Unlike so many othersAs I'm only an occasional, and very picky, reader of YA and children's books, I feel they have to work extra hard to impress me. Unlike so many others, The Square Root of Summer not only impressed me, but surpassed any and all expectations I could have had: it's not just a decent YA novel, it's a fantastic concept and a warm, heartfelt story that works well for any audience. I also liked the way it sidestepped so many of the paths I'd expect a book like this to go down: main character Gottie is science-obsessed rather than bookish; she's average in many respects instead of being your typical special-snowflake YA heroine who's amazing in every way; she's a brilliant student but knows nothing about, for example, music, and she's happy in her small and unremarkable home town. She is, happily, a believable teenager, a thing that's much rarer than it should be in novels for both adults and kids.
Gottie is relatable, but her life comes with just enough touches of everyday magic to hit that aspirational sweet spot. The loveably eccentric family, bacchanalian parties, beach hangouts and cosy country bookshop all made me long for the endless summers of adolescence. Her relationship woes are nicely done (when I was the exact same age as her I had a relationship with a boy who wouldn't acknowledge me in public, so the Jason storyline traced over old, old wounds) but it's her grief for beloved grandfather Grey that really hits home, really makes Gottie's characterisation sing. And that's without even mentioning the fantasy bits - they're great, and they make The Square Root of Summer read like a junior version of Scarlett Thomas's The End of Mr. Y.
I felt bereft when I parted from Gottie and co, and the ending made me cry on a train. A lovely, heart-melting book....more
I read A Little Lumpen Novelita in its entirety within an hour, and it's one of those novellas that makes you want to read nothing but novellas. The sI read A Little Lumpen Novelita in its entirety within an hour, and it's one of those novellas that makes you want to read nothing but novellas. The story of Bianca and her short-lived 'life of crime' is perfectly formed, breathless and wonderfully strange. She - the narrator - lives alone, orphaned, with her brother, scratching a living until the arrival of her brother's two friends, silent and oddly compliant men referred to only as 'the Bolognan' and 'the Libyan'. These two, both of whom become Bianca's lovers, draw Bianca and her brother into a plot which involves her seducing another man, Maciste, a blind ex-bodybuilder. She goes along with it - after all, she seems to see some sort of vaguely imagined 'crime' as an inevitability in her life.
"If you were a car, what kind of car would you be?" A Fiat of flesh. (Not a good answer. What I'd really like to be is a vintage car, a Lamborghini. And I'd only leave the garage two or three times a year. I'd also like to be a Los Angeles taxi, the seats stained with semen and blood. Actually, I don't know how to drive and I couldn't care less about cars.)
Scenes are often dark or hazy, either literally (as in the labyrinth that is Maciste's sprawling home) or because of the unspecific, shifting nature of Bianca's description. Bianca is a passive character, mostly indifferent, and yet she is sympathetic, even sometimes funny in a wry, dry sort of way. She seems to let things happen to her without caring much one way or the other, until the end when she seizes control in rather dramatic fashion - or does she? We are left to wonder what may have happened off the page, and although Bianca lets us know at the beginning she is now 'a mother and a married woman' and these events are all in the past, there is no hint of a bridge between the two Biancas. As short and enigmatic as the book is, it's so effective at crafting its characters and their surroundings that it leaves a strong, even haunting, impression. ...more