This book is, frankly, trashy. Really trashy. The characters are paper-thin (the dutiful but boring dad! the flighty drug-addict runaway mum! her scumThis book is, frankly, trashy. Really trashy. The characters are paper-thin (the dutiful but boring dad! the flighty drug-addict runaway mum! her scumbag husband! the bad twin, all sex and drugs and rock 'n' roll and screaming fits! the good twin, all saintly halo and perfect temper!) and never once ascend above the annoying stereotypes they have been given. The twins are particularly frustrating characters - Georgie, the "bad" twin, is not "bad" in as in "evil", but she is foul-tempered, foul-mouthed, violent and she has always been this way. Kay, on the other hand, is perfect. Sweet, loving, ambitious, NEVER a cross word to her dad. There are simply no people like this, no people who are such extremes. And it is vital to sympathise with the twins, which I didn't.
The plotting is addictive but atrocious. I read this one really quickly, and I didn't stop reading for a lot of it. It's fast-paced and the writing is so minimalist that you can get through a lot very snappily. But Fitzgerald totally fails to capitalise on any of the interesting things about her premise. Should he let one girl die? Will only contemplates that very briefly, and while on drugs. Doesn't go through with the organ donation thing. The twist about the parentage is no twist at all because it's obvious from the start. The plotting is pure pulp, with a special mention to the end, which is so XXX that I spent most of it saying, "Oh, God, it's not going there..." (but it is, and it's sad that the novel had to end on such a duff note, because my rating might have been kinder had that not left a sour taste in my mouth.)
There are so many strands that seem pointless or left hanging, such as Georgie's brief, bizarre non-relationship with the seventeen-year-old stalker Will hires to track down Georgie's mother, which just ends, or my personal favourite, Will's relationship with Linda, which seems to be there solely to assure the adult readers that, really, ignore the two eighteen-year-olds that are central to the plot, this is not a YA novel. I have no problem with sex scenes, even the S+M ones on display here - they're not at all graphic, but they are so pointless and gratuitious, contributing absolutely nothing to the plot except another character and a bit of very "adult" sex. Yawn. It felt like it was supposed to be funny, which it wasn't.
And yet the writing is good. The humour is especially great. Even though I don't have my book to hand, I can still summon up this one from my memory: Will is watching his twin girls in the hospital beds, both of them are very sick and he's beside himself with worry: "Will would have shot himself right then and there had his gun not been filed under G in his filing cabinet." ...more
I'm pretty sure that Gillian Flynn writes just for me.
I'm aware of how narcissistic that sounds, but hear me ou"Women love vulnerability. Most women."
I'm pretty sure that Gillian Flynn writes just for me.
I'm aware of how narcissistic that sounds, but hear me out: Sharp Objects is so full of things I love that it's impossible for me to properly, objectively judge it.
Like Gillian Flynn, I am obsessed with women who do Very Bad Things. Not in real life - I can't read about real-life killers - but in crime novels. This is especially difficult as crime fiction is, by and large, populated by women who are weak, spineless victims, either there to be raped/tortured/kidnapped/brutally murdered/fall in love with the troubled detective even though she is way out of his league and far more attractive and attentive than he is. If you absolutely loathe this trope, I feel confident in saying that you will like Sharp Objects. Somehow, somewhere, Gillian Flynn is linked to me and she knows that women like me exist - women who roll their eyes whenever the oh-so-hot, intelligent female lead fawns over the broken male detective and devotes herself to putting him back together/having great sex, who shudder through the pages of women being hoodwinked by killers and brutally tortured, who wince with the endless supply of misogynistic killer perspectives.
Sharp Objects is a beacon of extremely dark light in this stuffy genre. Camille Preaker, the washed-up journalist at the centre, is riddled with words that she cut onto her own skin. There is nothing attractive or aspirational about Camille's despair; though she is both pretty and broken, it's obvious that she is not one of those pretty broken women that also populate crime novels, damsels in distress for the male lead to save. There is also a cop, Richard, from Kansas investigating the murders at Windy Gap, and let's face it -- we all know that, at some point, they're going to wind up in bed together. But Flynn is no fool: there's no real blood in the relationship between Camille and Richard, they're both using each other, there are no cliches about their great sex or mad lust for each other.
Their relationship is also not particularly important. I am fascinated with dark and complex mother/daughter relationships and Flynn delivered the goods on this one, too. There's more than a hint of Southern gothic - though they're in Chicago - about the "bond" between Camille and Adora, which has become frayed and knotted by the death of Camille's younger sister, Marion, when she was thirteen, their huge rotting mansion and Camille's thirteen-year-old sister, Amma, a kind of Lolita parody. This is all about relationships between women. My favourite scenes were between the groups of women who were friends as teenage girls and have grown up into a bizarre clique of bitchy, hypocritical yet dead-on women, from Jackie and her gang of fifty-something boozers to Katie and her little group of sanctimonious, gossipy mothers. Their conversations have a superb rhythm and are full of intricacies and realism.
The best thing about Sharp Objects is the atmosphere. I love books set in small American towns - I'm obsessed with "Twin Peaks" and "American Gothic" for those reasons - and books set in less-exposed areas of America (i.e. not L.A., Boston or New York), which is why I'm obsessed with "The Killing." I also love the dusty, drab yet strangely quaint atmosphere of Windy Gap, full of totally bizarre yet realistic characters who loll around bars and big houses all day, being very cruel to one another and themselves. There is also something totally evocative yet oppressive about it, vivid and gritty. Creepy is the perfect word for Sharp Objects; it's one of those get-under-your-skin novels, and that it does. There is a kind of totality to Sharp Objects; from minor characters to the narcissistic and spoiled Meredith, girlfriend of the prime suspect, to her boyfriend (prime suspect mostly because of his un-masculine reaction to his little sister's brutal murder, i.e. crying) and the endless conversations of the little female cliques. Gillian Flynn seems totally devoted to her subject, and it's a joy to read.
It's not perfect, though. Perhaps more flawed than I'm willing to admit, because, as you can probably tell from the review, this is one of these books that hit me hard and give me just what I want. Gillian Flynn is a great writer, full of chilly restraint - (“Sometimes I think illness sits inside every woman, waiting for the right moment to bloom. I have known so many sick women all my life. Women with chronic pain, with ever-gestating diseases. Women with conditions. Men, sure, they have bone snaps, they have backaches, they have a surgery or two, yank out a tonsil, insert a shiny plastic hip. Women get consumed.”; "Sometimes I think I won't ever feel safe until I can count my last days on one hand.") but the plot is somewhat underdeveloped, despite the great characters and atmosphere.
The main meat of what happened to Camille's sister Marion was immediately obvious to me (view spoiler)[Munchausen's by Proxy, that is (hide spoiler)] so it annoyed me that it took Camille so long to figure out the same thing. Although Flynn genuinely surprised me with the final twist (view spoiler)[that Amma, not Adora, was behind the killings, (hide spoiler)], which was fitting and perfect. The epilogue felt rushed, with a lot of things crammed into few short pages. I would have liked to see more time spent on Camille's cutting because that was the only aspect of the novel that felt something like shock value to me - more, "oh, look how damaged my protaganist is!" than a genuine exploration of what it meant to be that damaged, if it makes sense, more like a character quirk (as though thousands of scars spelling out words were something 'quirky' and 'fun' like pink hair or hipster clothes). Still, I loved this book and it is highly recommended for anyone who is sick of formulaic crime novels.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
The Lincoln Lawyer is a strange one for me. My feelings towards this book can be best summed up as - well, I was enamoured with it until I wa2.5 stars
The Lincoln Lawyer is a strange one for me. My feelings towards this book can be best summed up as - well, I was enamoured with it until I wasn't.
This was a VERY slow one for me - I read the first 60% in about a week, then I just...stopped. I took a HUGE break and I'm not even sure why. I got into it all right, and I liked Connelly's very matter-of-fact, direct, simple style...until I didn't. I don't really know what changed, but something did. Perhaps this book is just too long? The punchy, no-nonsense style works for a very intense, dramatic book with lots of twists and turns, but frankly this book had too many pages and too few twists and turns to sustain this kind of pace. Therefore, instead of feeling quick and explosive, it was a damp squib, utterly bloodless.
Essentially, it's a by-the-numbers legal thriller. The LA setting invested me to start with, but it's not remotely palpable beyond the odd name-drop of a place - "Boulevard", "Ventura" etc. The main character is a schlub with a conscience (of course he is) and, for all the blurb's promise of him being a "sleazy defence attorney", Connelly keeps everything very black and white by making his opponent, despite being a prosecutor, also a total sleaze and ensuring that, though Mickey does his job, he does it without any relish. He also doesn't do anything particularly controversial or dramatic. There is nothing original about The Lincoln Lawyer - sleazy rich boys, platonic prostitutes, an ex-wife he still loves, a daughter he never sees. You've seen all this before, and Connelly doesn't even seem to be TRYING to add anything new.
The fact that it says "Mickey Haller, #1" up there should already give this away - there's zero sense of danger. Sure, so Mickey occasionally appears like he might be up on a murder charge or that he's pissed off the wrong person, but he's not exactly going to die, go to prison or get disbarred. This is where the punchy style totally fell flat. It should have made the pages fly and instead it just robbed the weak and unoriginal plot of any emotional or dramatic impact. For instance, when Haller figures out (quickly, so this isn't going under spoiler tags) that Roulet isn't the "innocent guy" Haller thinks he is, I don't care, because Connelly didn't give me any reason to care about Roulet's innocence or guilt. It's just a standard legal story - Haller takes a case that should be simple, turns out it's not, somebody he loves dies, gets in too deep and then pulls himself out with the help of minor characters we've seen before.
Yet I can't quite drop the rating all the way because there was SOMETHING in those first pages that kept me turning them. There are good moments and I enjoyed the minor characters like Lorna (where did she go?!), Raul and Gloria. This seems like it's crying out for a film adaptation (I'm not surprised that there was one) because it seems to be begging actors to breathe life into the paper-flat characters, deliver the quick dialogue, set designers and directors to illuminate the Los Angeles setting and a half-decent scriptwriter to flesh out the basic plot. Not exactly a ringing endorsement for Connelly. ...more
I am not the person to talk to about this book. It's...okay? Blah. It's not flowery or pretentious - it just is what it is: a book of short, often sweI am not the person to talk to about this book. It's...okay? Blah. It's not flowery or pretentious - it just is what it is: a book of short, often sweet stories about the different (but not all that different) lives of people in Dublin. I think my good rating might have more to do with the fact that I am insanely loaded down with work this week, and I kept looking at Joyce and thinking "uuuuugh" when I thought about reading it, because I thought it would inevitably turn out like "In Memoriam" last week - something I had no time to read and therefore had to half-read, while frantically flipping through the poem and trying to squeeze an essay out of it. But no. I sat down and read it all. Quick, riveting and pretty enjoyable. Though I can't tell if my relief is because, thank you God, it's over and I didn't have to kill myself to read it. ...more
This book starts well, but then quickly deteriorates into a well-written but ultimately lifeless and icky little endeavour. The writing is brisk and cThis book starts well, but then quickly deteriorates into a well-written but ultimately lifeless and icky little endeavour. The writing is brisk and clean, but the whole thing was just a bit too British for me - and this is coming from someone who has lived in England her whole life. It's a dark and disturbing little novel, but it's utterly bloodless and restrained in a way that should be more effective, but also leaves it feeling toothless and contradictory, a psychological thriller that wants to be about sexual obsession and a descent into madness but feels almost jokingly middle-class.
In an attempt to keep everything harmonious, as well, Hancock has her characters behave in the most ridiculous ways. So, as the blurb says, Sonia kidnaps Jez by keeping him in the house, drugging him and lying to him. I don't consider myself a very streetwise person, but by the time I'd fallen into a druggy sleep several times, been tied up and being repeatedly told that I can't leave the house by a woman that seems more than a little unstable, would I really assume that it was in the name of a birthday party? Honest to God, I know Hancock tried to explain it by saying that Jez was sheltered and naive, but there's sheltered and naive and then there's apparently the type of fifteen-year-old that lacks even the most basic comprehensive skills and has never turned on a TV or read a newspaper. I assume it was an attempt to keep any blood or violence out of the novel, as Jez fighting back would've necessitated, but instead it just seemed ludicrous bordering on funny.
Speaking of which, the supposedly sexually charged flashbacks of Sonia and her obsession from the past, Seb, having sex, kissing and practicing a kind of thirteen-year-old version of BDSM or whatever were cringey rather than atmospheric. ("No sex, please, we're British!") Hancock's writing is definitely good, the pacing is quick and compelling, but the whole thing is just a vague type of icky, like a thin layer of sticky substance I want to wash off, instead of a deeply disturbing and intense experience. Sonia insists she's not violent, nor does she want to hurt Jez, but the total lack of introspection in her voice just leaves the thing feeling sort of half-baked and underdone....more
Quick caveat to apologising for not reading or reviewing so much anymore. I'm an English Lit student and it's pretty much killed reading for pleasureQuick caveat to apologising for not reading or reviewing so much anymore. I'm an English Lit student and it's pretty much killed reading for pleasure for me. But along came "The Shining Girls", and Karen's review compares it to "Gone Girl", one of my favourites and the big buzz book of summer 2012 and I need to get on this shit.
Then I read it.
And I don't know what's wrong with me, but it's as simple as this - I don't understand the hype.
Looking at the blurb, I do. The premise is both devilishly simple and rich with possibility. The marketing is excellent; the blurb is fascinating, the comparisons apt.
What a shame about the book.
Okay, that may be a little harsh. But understand that this review comes from a place of deep disappointment and confusion.
The Shining Girls is bland. I never thought I would type that word when I looked at the gorgeous cover, the spooky blurb or listened to the crazy hype. I thought I could be disappointed or disgusted possibly, but I never thought I'd be so...lost. For a novel that seems so genre-based, it lacks distinctly in any kind of plot. For a novel that strives to be both genre-based and literary, it meanders through cheap exploitation and genre cliche.
Harper, a drifter from the 1920s, kills women who "shine" through history. Why are they chosen? No idea. Possibly because they could make things different for women throughout history, and they try to help women. This is fascinating to me. Beukes's ladies are all awesome women helping each other, who are my favourite kind of people, especially book people. But they all seem rather...low-rent examples of this principle, or maybe Beukes was afraid of stimulating some of the more tricky areas of fantasy/sci-fi (especially to the uninitiated reader, as The Shining Girls is very mass-appeal - which is not a bad thing at all), like alternate history. These women were radical, but I wondered if they were really the best examples of proto-feminism that Beukes could dig up, especially as Harper is motivated to do most of this by a magic house. Kirby, for instance, does nothing of any great interest or significance, mostly piecing together parts of history that the reader already knows or quickly finds out. Since this has all happened already in the past, Kirby has very little effect on any of it.
For those reasons, the time-travel/speculative element of The Shining Girls is pretty much a wash. Beukes does nothing interesting or remotely surprising with it. It has no noticeable effect on the plot. Harper wanders between time periods with their occasional "this is the 1970s/1990s/1930s" markers in the same way that a serial killer from a standard crime fiction novel might move between cities. Her attempts to combine the speculative element with the crime fiction element are admirable - is the house evil, or does Harper make it evil? how much control does Harper have over which women to choose? - and possess interesting potential, but the answer to these questions is mostly "to some degree" (no definitive answers). Beukes tries to be ambiguous but ends up vague and abstract. All that is solid melts into air.
This is mostly achieved by Beukes's workmanlike writing and the total lack of character depth. Harper is a bogeyman, utterly defined by the horrible things he does and lacking anything of a character beyond it. Kirby is slightly better, another feisty-but-damaged protagonist, albeit one with something a little more interesting about her, though her so-called romance is dreadful. There's no insight that will surprise anyone even passingly familiar with crime fiction. I've always wanted more female characters in crime with depth, too, so I was initially hopeful that this book might buck the trend with genuinely vivid female characters in the other time periods.
No. They die. Over and over and over and my eyes glazed over by the end of it. Every other chapter of "The Shining Girls" reminded me of the standard crime prologue, where a woman is introduced, given a shred of depth in a few paragraphs, then brutally killed to set the tone for the Bad Guy. Over and over and over. These horrendous segments earned this book the one star rating. It wasn't the horrible violence that I opposed. Beukes is less graphic in places than many other writers - though, seriously, more pretty and promising twenty-something women being killed? These felt manipulative, cheap and repulsive. Of course they moved me at points. Can you read a chapter about a strong woman being brutally murdered and begging to see her children again because she's too young to die and not be moved? I doubt it, though I did feel beaten into apathy by it all when the ridiculous climax rolled around. At least there's only a couple of this in most books.
I'm sorry, guys. Read Karen's review instead. She loved it and she gave it an excellent review. I was so bitter by this dry, miserable book that I found myself genuinely wondering if any of the people who've buzzed about it have actually read it. ...more
If you loved, loved the other books in this series, you'll probably at least like this one. I've read 3-4 of the Hill/Jordan books, usually s1.5 stars
If you loved, loved the other books in this series, you'll probably at least like this one. I've read 3-4 of the Hill/Jordan books, usually sporadically and out of order, but most of them are definitely a cut above the standard crime novel. McDermid has a way of writing her killers-of-the-book and (particularly) her victims-of-the-book which makes them actual human beings. I've never felt such sorrow for a victim as I have in her second book in the series, "Wire in the Blood." I know I negatively reviewed them when I first read them, but I re-read them a few months ago and appreciated what good novels they are.
This one, however, lost its punch for me. I would never usually spend this long reading a book (save the 900-page monstrosity that is Henry Fielding's Tom Jones) but I actually quit reading it altogether. I didn't exactly plan to go back to it but I saw it on my Kindle screen and thought, damn it, I've paid for it now, I might as well finish it. Some of McDermid's usual talents have deserted her for this one. The victims are quick strong-woman sketches, and then they're brutally-murdered with conveyor-belt precision.
Confession: I have never been particularly enthralled by the relationship between Hill and Jordan. Crime novel convention dictates that the attractive cop must have a relationship with his/her companion, be it partner, murderer (in the case of Silence of the Lambs and Heartsick) or, in this case, psychologist. This book is definitely self-contained, and can be read alone, but follows on directly from the previous book in the series, The Retribution, in which disposable supporting characters were either murdered or mutilated at the hands of another savage killer of women. The blurb says that "Guilt and grief have driven a wedge between long time crime-fighting partners psychologist Tony Hill and ex-DCI Carol Jordan", and this is certainly true, but their methods of coping are so traditional and bog-standard - Tony is lonely and isolated and guilty, Carol is lonely and isolated and angry - that my eyes glazed over.
I usually like McDermid's epic take on the crime novel, where all people have a voice, but due to repetition and the general tick-box averageness of the novel, it felt padded by about 200 pages. This might have more impact to someone who really, really cares about Hill and Jordan - and I certainly like them as characters - but there was no particular originality or spark in the tale of their grieving.
Which brings me neatly to the case-of-the-book. A control-freak man is kicking women to death and gluing up their labias - a horror show which is so blatantly designed to bring Hill and Jordan back in the same room together that it left a bad taste in my mouth. The blurb also says "when the evidence begins to point in a disturbing direction, thinking the unthinkable seems the only possible answer", which seems to be total false advertising to me. At least in McDermid's first, The Mermaids Singing she delivered pretty richly on the promise that Tony would be changed forever by his run-in. As you might guess, the blurb implies that Tony comes under suspicion for the murders. This is the biggest wash ever.
Neither of the two non-Tony POVs ever doubt - Carol and Paula, Carol's once-junior, now promoted - that Tony is innocent. Nor does the reader. (I know, I know, all you Hill/Jordan fanatics are coming after me with pitchforks: "OF COURSE WE WOULDN'T THINK THAT OF TONY!!!") Even worse, though, I never doubted that Tony would get out and be exonerated, and - worse still - neither does Tony. The killer brutally murdering women who just happen to look like Carol Jordan (and, yes, it does turn out to just be a coincidence) is so blatantly a catalyst for Carol to emerge from her little isolated cottage and get back to police work that it made me roll my eyes hard. There's no dramatic tension in this particular plot contrivance at all. I almost wished that McDermid had just written on the pages concerning this, "Look, I have to bring my two lead characters back in the same room somehow."
A much-noted things in other reviews is the introduction of DCI Fielding, played by Siobhan Lahbib in "Wire in the Blood", the television series, who was Carol's replacement after Hermione Norris, who played Carol, left for pastures new. I can understand why McDermid needed to change up Fielding's character as, in the TV series, she is a little too much of a Carol-substitute, so, even though Lahbib is really good from what I remember, there's not a whole lot of distinction. Still, that is no excuse to relegate strong, interesting, maternal Alex to the supporting, non-POV role of a bureaucratic pen-pusher who could come with a sign over her head saying "CONFLICT."
We only see her through Paula's perspective and Paula constantly unfavourably compares her to wunderkind Mary-Sue Carol Jordan and accuses her of being a clueless bull in a china shop who won't listen to her own underlings, pursues innocent men and just wants to get a result (and the reader is meant to agree). Of course these police officers do exist, but I'd prefer for Alex to have her own POV so she could be her own character, rather than a mindless antagonist and Carol foil (by being everything Carol's not - by which I mean a mindless, idiotic dictator who rules over her team with an iron fist). This is irritating and unforgivable and made attractive, strong, sympathetic, intelligent, always-right Carol even more of a Mary-Sue. Paula is almost as bad - the only interesting thing about her is that she's a lesbian and she takes in the son of a murder victim (and it was nice to see Dr. Blessing again). Nevertheless, this plot thread comes to nothing - like almost all of them in C&B - and Paula's voice and outlook is nearly indistinguishable from Carol's.
As a character study of survivor's guilt and recovery, it's a limp part-failure. If you are really invested in the characters of Hill and Jordan, their endless trudge to be back together - in however small a capacity - might seem thrilling. For me, it just felt like every other depiction of guilt I've ever seen in a crime show (Carol thinks she should have died instead! Carol blames for Tony for not being psychic! Tony blames himself! Tony stares lovingly at Carol! Carol is having none of it!) with absolutely no variation.
In another review, I saw a Hill/Jordan fan agonising over a quote from one of McDermid's interviews, saying that she could never conceive Hill and Jordan in a normal relationship. Well, it's starting to show. Having smoothed out most of the uglier aspects of their characters (Tony's impotence gets not even one mention, which wasn't surprising, as McDermid admitted to regretting this choice. Yes, it's dark, but it's one of the few distinguishing strokes in the Hill/Jordan novels), we're left with a "will-they-won't-they" which is stuck in total stalemate, and so lacks any punch or verve. Although C&B closes out on a note of mild hope for Hill/Jordan shippers, it confirmed for me what McDermid's novels' central relationship have become by book eight: one baby step forwards, one massive shove backwards. This is wearing for me. Another tune, please.
As a detective novel, the police work is even worse. It's non-existent. Everything we need to know about the killer (and I mean everything - motives, means, opportunity, even job type and how he knows the victims) is revealed in his POV. Interesting components of his back-story, like his stepmother and father, are never seen. Instead we're left with a misogynist killing women and revealing all his vital information in the chapter before the team are supposed to know it, which makes the tiny segments of "police work" feel like trudging through endless wheel-spinning pages to play catch-up. As a result, Tony's supposed genius and Carol's return to work seem psychic, convenient and dry. Tony is the only other suspect and it comes to one of the least exciting conclusions I've ever read.
Fingers crossed for a return to form in book #9....more
I really wanted to give this one 4 stars. It was probably closer to 4.5 for the first 30% or so - I loved it. I lov3.5 stars
Damn you, Caroline Kepnes.
I really wanted to give this one 4 stars. It was probably closer to 4.5 for the first 30% or so - I loved it. I loved what a twenty-first century take it was on stalking, I was horribly compelled by Joe's voice, and Kepnes's writing is just fantastic. I crashed through this when I was supposed to be doing my university work like an addict. I was amazed by her skill at pulling off an absolute boat load of pop culture references while seeming true to her character's voice and actually adding something to the book, rather than seeming dated and uncomfortable. The dialogue was dead on and I loved the whole satirical edge on "twenty-somethings today" without seeming obnoxious or patronising. My only complaint at this stage of the novel was that I was personally uncomfortable by some of the black humour. That doesn't mean it wasn't skilful - I just have quite low tolerance for mean spirited black humour.
Nevertheless, I found this incredibly promising and well-written -- until I realized that I wasn't actually all that keen on the way the plot developed, particularly from around 60% onwards.
Firstly, Joe's luck was staggering. There are six incidents (four of them major) that I can think of where he gets away with his actions not out of ingenuity but sheer blind luck. I really feel guilty for picking holes like this because it's so well-written, damn it, that when I was reading, I sort of went along with it for most of the novel until the final act pushed me over the brink. All writers need to do this to some extent, of course, but looking back on the novel, it seems like the entire plot was comprised of Joe getting into scrapes from following Beck around, and then just happening to wiggle out of them by random coincidence. I didn't mind the fact that he fooled the police in Rhode Island, or I would have minded a lot less, if it hadn't been preceded by Benji's convenient problems, (view spoiler)[ then being exonerated by the random and unlikely boat crash (even though he was suspected in the first place); Peach never once seeing Joe's face when he tried to kill her in Central Park; Beck not seeing Joe on the Charles Dickens ferry; the, again, very convenient way Joe dispatched of Peach despite not exactly planning to do it like that or knowing it would end up that way, and, the biggest one of all, the one that made me say, "Okay, Kepnes, time out": Beck's death. (hide spoiler)]
I could have forgiven all of this, though, because a similar accusation has been levelled at one of my favourite contemporary novels, Gone Girl. Gone Girl sailed by on its unlikelihood because the character work was so fantastic that I hardly noticed, and, though it did not always explain things in the most plausible way, there was a decided effort by Flynn at tying it together. (Although, on another note, this book is really nothing like Gone Girl and I wish everyone would stop comparing every goddamn psychological thriller since 2012 to Gone Girl.) It seemed like Kepnes had her events in place and her ending decided, but couldn't tie the two together, so sort of slopped them together a bit unconvincingly and crosed her fingers. Good (and frequently great) writing papers over the cracks but can't totally hide the implausibilities and holes.
Onto the character work. Joe is an incredibly compelling villain protagonist. He really is monstrous, but Kepnes balances it perfectly; he's not too moustache-twirling but I never felt like she was buying into Joe's myths of himself. I was initially impressed with the characterisation of (Guinevere) Beck, Joe's paramour of the moment, an aspiring writer who is also a self-centred flake, likes to be worshipped and may or may not be a bit of a stalker herself. At first, Beck is a woman with the messy parts left in, the ugly parts, and I really respected Kepnes's characterisation of her (and it might sound pathetic, but an attractive woman who masturbates? An acknowledgement that that is actually an acceptable thing?)
But, as we started to get a better sense of Beck-the-person, not just Beck-the-Joe-construct, I began to feel wary. Beck, from her first appearance, is all about sex. She wears a jumper without a bra. She exposes her underwear. She flirts with everything, everyone, she goes on Craigslist for daddy-issue sex, even her best friend is a predatory lesbian who gets off to pictures of her. At first, I assumed that this was Joe's stalker-gaze, distorting Beck-the-person but, particularly in the last quarter, we learn some things about Beck that affirm this view of her. She writes sex-crazed stories and, in a final revelation, she is essentially exposed as a slut. I disapprove of that word. I would never use that word in normal conversation, I don't believe in that, but with the revelations that Beck has (view spoiler)[slept with her psychiatrist, seduced him after weeks of aggressively trying, got him to buy her a Macbook, then withdrawn her affections abruptly because he left his wife and it got too serious (hide spoiler)], it feels like that's the word Kepnes is trying to prompt, to put in my head. I know that Kepnes is a woman herself and I did really like her portrayals of Karen and Beck, and her portrayal of the believable friendship between Beck and her friends, and I at first admired her portrayal of a woman who is not the male fantasy of womanhood, but then, the more we saw of Beck, the more I became suspicious of the fact that she seems like another kind of female stereotype, not the manic pixie dream girl but the narcissistic, manipulative, cheating whore.
This, again, would've been fine if Beck had her own voice. When Joe read her psychiatrist's notes, I believed that we might be about to see a Gone Girlish (yes, that book again) twist on the horizon, where, suddenly, Beck gets her own voice and - surprise! - she's just as bad as Joe but not in the pathetic, crawly way that she is, wheedling and seducing and sweet-talking. Or maybe she isn't. Even if she hated Joe, or she really was a manipulative nymphomaniac, or she had to ultimately lose to him, I wanted to see her at least try and match him as his obsession got out of control. I wanted to see her try. I wanted Beck to affirm herself outside of the identity that Joe had made for her, her friends (and the odious Peach) had made for her, Benji had made for her, even her web presence had made for her. But it never came. I'm almost sure that, even though Joe's insidious voice will be stuck with me for a long time, I won't be able to remember very much about Guinevere Beck at all, except that Joe thought he loved her.
I also am slightly side-eyeing all you people who are like, "Kepnes made us root for Joe, showing us that it's not stalker=bad, stalked=good!" I mean, what? Yes, Joe is a fascinating character. He's great to read about. I admit that I hated Peach more, because who couldn't hate such a pretentious, arrogant, and controlling person? (And her name is Peach.) Beck might've been hugely flawed (I'll admit that I accidentally spoiled myself for the "revelation" regarding her family so I have a softer view of that than I might've had if I hadn't seen it coming) but Joe is a serial stalker and murderer. There is a line. This is the line. I feel uncomfortable about the readers who "rooted" for Joe because I'm concerned that somebody could buy into this, "I'm only harassing you because I love you and I want to protect you but I also want you to have sex with me as I wish and wear what I like and do what I want at all times, while I am reading your e-mails, hacking your texts and plotting to do away with those who 'mistreat' you (and get in the way of you doing what I want and living out my fantasy of us being together).
But, ultimately, and this is the unforgivable sin (I really am starting to sound a bit like Joe himself), it becomes a little stale, and, worst of all, predictable. Beck finds out and things unravel, more or less, how they might be expected to. I particularly hated the fact that her way of trying to get through to Joe is to seduce him again. Beck can be as bad and as ugly inside as Kepnes wanted - I'm not taking my issue with that - I'm taking my issue with the fact that, ultimately, she's boring and tropey by comparison. The opportunities to develop her aren't taken and, when in a crisis, she always does the most predictable and shallow thing. As such, she remains a weak sauce to Joe's main course, and I felt like this bought into some uncomfortable things about the portrayal of violence - physical or emotional - against women in fiction. Don't look at the woman. She's not important. She reacts how women do, she does the things women do, and, ultimately, she can't compete. Look at the man. Look at him.
I will, however, Caroline Kepnes, read whatever you write next, because that's how much I love your writing. Even though you sometimes let me down, you deserve me. I know this about you, and I'm only telling you this for your own good. You'll thank me eventually.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more