**spoiler alert** 1) I'm not keeping my copy, so if you're curious, and live in the US, mine is available -- I will give it to you.
2) there are spoile**spoiler alert** 1) I'm not keeping my copy, so if you're curious, and live in the US, mine is available -- I will give it to you.
2) there are spoilers here so beware. I've tried to use spoiler brackets when I thought I might give away too much.
3) I decided that this really isn't the worst book I've ever read, so two stars for the ideas that come out of it.
** I sat down to read this book so that I would have plenty of time to come up with ideas to throw out at my next book group meeting and I have to say that while the actual ideas/questions that the author posits are good ones that have the potential to raise a number of ethical and moral questions, I ended up not enjoying the book as a whole, and was actually quite disappointed to the point where I couldn't wait to finish it. It's not that those ideas fail to make themselves heard in the novel because they most certainly do . But for me it's all in the telling, and it just didn't appeal. There are too many implausible moments scattered throughout; when I sat down and thought about it, it turns out that the story is hardly what I'd call original, and I'm not a big fan of her writing.
Everything that happens in this book is based on the diary of main character Grace Winter, an account that she began in prison after surviving the sinking of the England-based, America-bound Empress Alexandra she was on with her husband in 1914 when she was only 22. She'd started her diary at the behest of her attorney -- she is about to go on trial "for her life," and her lawyer feels that the re-creation of her ordeal while in the lifeboat might be used as "some kind of exonerating exhibit" during her trial. At this stage of the game, we have no idea what's going on, but we do know that she's there with two other women who, as we discover later, were also in the lifeboat.
To their horror, once in the lifeboat, the survivors there discover that it was actually designed to hold only eighty percent of the stated forty-person capacity, because the first owners of the ocean liner had skimped to save money, and sort of forgot to redo the sign afterwards to reflect the changes. The sailor in charge, Hardie, doesn't seem too worried at first -- on board there is water, some survival provisions, and he assures them that rescue probably wouldn't be too long in coming since an SOS had gone out before the ship went down. They're also in well-established shipping lanes. Mind you, it's only day two when one of the passengers on board the overcrowded lifeboat starts "making a joke" about people volunteering to just go over the side to make room for the others, but as their ordeal continues, they realize that they're on their own.
note: spoilers ahead, so anyone who doesn't want to know should stop reading now.
The author had some good ideas that she put into the writing of this novel, ideas I thought would that would make for great discussion when I chose the book. I first read about them in a 2013 interview in January Magazine , which I discovered is also reprinted in the back of this book. I thought that combined, all of these ideas would make for a top-notch story, and I have to say it didn't deliver. The thing is that even though, in a way, the book actually does deal with ethical questions of survival, by the time I finished putting together the details of Grace's personal life and adding them into the mix, this book, which is advertised on the cover blurb as an "enthralling story of survival at sea" actually boils down to the story of a self-centered, stuck-up, needy woman who is perfectly prepared to do what she has to in order to ride out any storm she faces under any condition. And that is a story that has been done many, many times.
Aside from feeling somewhat misled here, what sealed my dislike of this book are a number of implausible moments that occur in this novel. One in particular actually made me laugh, when (view spoiler)[the women take charge of the lifeboat at a certain point and we are expected to believe that after lingering without food for some time, and after being refreshed by the minimal amount of dried fish they discover in someone's hoard, somehow they immediately came up with a burst of energy enough to clean things up, bail water, coil the rope and then patch the previously unfixable hole in the boat. (hide spoiler)]
Finally, I have to say that I didn't care much for the writing -- too many long, water-based metaphors, a clunky style, there's way too much trying to be done at once here that doesn't come together well, and frankly, there were spots where more careful attention from an editor would have helped greatly. But this book got rave reviews, and there's a movie being made about it, so it's probably just me and my picky self once again....more
A long time ago, I watched Peter Jackson's film Heavenly Creatures for the first time and found myself captivated by the murder that inspired the filmA long time ago, I watched Peter Jackson's film Heavenly Creatures for the first time and found myself captivated by the murder that inspired the film; since then I've watched it a number of times and just recently discovered the uncut version which I watched during a week when my husband was away on business. I'm not really a major true crime person, but there are some cases, like this one, that stick in the mind. This case took place in the early 1950s in New Zealand, where, as the author tells us, "murder of any kind was a major event," and that at that time, there were maybe two, three murders a year. He also says that Women who killed were rarities" and "As for teenage girls, matricide -- it was unheard of."
Lately my interest was reopened after reading Beryl Bainbridge's fictional take on the case, Harriet Said... (1972), which changed the story but was most certainly loosely based on the Parker-Hulme case of 1954. Then, one insomniac night a couple of weeks ago, I stumbled on a documentary about the case, which made me want to watch Heavenly Creatures again, which then made me look for a true account of the murder, which led me to this book. I will say that as long as Graham sticks to the subject at hand, it's a book worth reading; it's when he goes off on tangents of details that I could have cared less about that I found myself tuning out.
Graham starts his story in the hours leading up to the actual murder itself, stopping at the point just before poor Honorah Parker's head is bashed in by a brick at Victoria Park in Christchurch. Honorah Parker (known as Rieper at the time), her daughter Paulette, and Paulette's friend Juliet Hulme had just finished having tea at a tearoom before venturing off down the "east side bush track"; later the woman who served them, Agnes Ritchie, would say that the girls were polite and that there was "Nothing out of the ordinary." Some 30 or so minutes later, Mrs. Ritchie was shocked to see the girls again, this time
"breathless, greatly agitated, with bloody hands and clothing. One girl's face with spattered with blood and the other's finely speckled."
She then learned that there'd been some sort of terrible accident and that the woman who'd been with them not too long before was now "covered with blood" somewhere "Down in the bushes -- down the track," according to the girls, having slipped on some rocks. Mr. Ritchie and his assistant went to find the woman but obviously it was too late when they arrived, since Honorah was dead. While the girls had called it an accident, Ritchie realized that there were "no rocks anywhere near," and not too far from her head lay a "half-brick with blood and bits of hair on it." The girls were taken to Juliet's home while police examined the scene; the investigators soon knew that this was no accident, but that "the deceased had been attacked with an animal ferocity seldom seen in the most brutal murders." What was worse, however, was that they also realized that "this savagery was the work of two teenage girls," a "thought too shocking for words."
After this beginning, which actually mirrors that of Heavenly Creatures, Graham goes on to examine the lives of the two girls, both separately and together, in order to come to a conclusion as to why Pauline's mother had to die that day. While I leave his findings for readers to discover, using a number of different sources, most pointedly Pauline's own diary, he paints a chilling picture as to what may have led up to that particular moment; he also goes on to look at the aftermath of the crime and its effects on the girls, the families, on the people in Christchurch, and its interest as the "murder of the century" that would later lead to plays, books, and a movie.
While he's focusing on all of the above, the book is captivating and hard to put down, and there are great photos in this book that help bring it to life. But I started finding my interest waning here and there as he throws in superfluous details that I could have cared less about (for example, the athletic prowess of the Hulmes' attorney's at his high school and then Cambridge, or the Hulmes' psychiatrist's wife's love of theater etc., etc., and more unnecessary stuff including what people were eating for lunch on a certain day), and it became a skimathon waiting to get back to the meat of the story. Another thing: this book could have ended some 50-something pages earlier which would have, I think, made it a stronger piece of writing; my final niggle is that there are no footnotes. Sources are listed in the back, but there are several spots where quotations are left unattributed and it drove me nuts. I know -- nerdiferous people such as myself are probably the only people who appreciate footnotes, but to me they're important and should be included in investigative pieces.
My biggest issue here is that I was not at all impressed with the change of title of this book, and in fact thought it a sort of cheap, exploitative publishers' trick. When originally published in 2011, it was called So Brilliantly Clever: Parker, Hulme and the Murder that Shocked the World which actually reflects what happens here; when it came to the US it became Anne Perry and the Murder of the Century, which sort of bypasses the fact that there were two girls involved. It's also highly misleading: we don't discover the modern-day of Juliet Hulme as Anne Perry until very late in the book, at which point we also discover the post-prison identity (Hilary Nathan) of Pauline Parker. But where's Hilary Nathan in the title? Obviously the title change was done to sell more copies of this book since there are thousands of Anne Perry fans out there; personally speaking, I think it's a cheap tactic.
Having said all of that, while on topic it is a book I'd recommend for anyone with an interest in the case who wants to know more about it -- Graham has done a pretty thorough job here that will answer pretty much any question someone might want answered. It's actually one of the most chilling true-crime stories I've read. ...more
At the moment, I'm sort of speechless. I got nothing done at all today because I couldn't stop reading this book, and it was completely worth it. I'mAt the moment, I'm sort of speechless. I got nothing done at all today because I couldn't stop reading this book, and it was completely worth it. I'm in awe.
While the book is not perfect, I do have to say that I've read a lot of crime novels in my time and the ending of this one makes up for all of the proWhile the book is not perfect, I do have to say that I've read a lot of crime novels in my time and the ending of this one makes up for all of the problems I had with some of the writing and plot issues in this novel. The truth is that midway through this book something came up in the reading that made me think about tossing it across the room, but then I decided to give it a chance because I was at the point of being so heavily invested. Luckily the story redeemed itself and turned out to be one of the most twisty crime novels I've read in a very long time. Note I said "twisty" rather than "twisted" -- big difference.
The story spans thirteen days over which the secrets of the small village of Giverny, France slowly come to light after the discovery of a body in the brook running through the Monet gardens. There are parts of this book that tend to be boggy and unnecessary -- I think a lot could have been left out to make it much tighter, but really, in this book it's all about the ending. When the reveal comes it comes in a big way, and I had to rethink every single thing I'd just read. My first thought was "holy crap -- that's genius!" and that's all I'm going to say about this book's plot. Any more would absolutely ruin things, and one of my online groups will be reading Black Water Lilies this month so I'm keeping shtum. It takes a strong writer to make this much of an impression, and I'm so damn picky about what I consider good crime reads, so that says a lot.
Settle in, grab a cup of tea and prepare to be gobsmacked. ...more
When I saw that Benjamin Black (aka John Banville) had a new novel out, I ordered it tout suite and didn't wait too long after it arrivlike 3.6 or 3.7
When I saw that Benjamin Black (aka John Banville) had a new novel out, I ordered it tout suite and didn't wait too long after it arrived to delve into it. Black has given me some of the best hours of my crime-fiction reading career with his Quirke novels set in 1950s Dublin, which I thought were just terrific. So I rushed to start this one, and while it starts out in a fashion not unlike a crime fiction novel with the main character stumbling onto a murder, as I got more into it I realized that there's much more going on here than just crime. It reads to me as much more of a historical novel of court intrigue that looks at a young man who arrives in Prague and finds himself unknowingly caught up in a power struggle and has no idea who he can trust; flying blind, he has to make choices without really knowing what's going on or indeed, just what might be at stake as he becomes a pawn in the players' end game.
for plot without spoilers you can turn to my reading journal here; if not, move on.
In the Author's Note section of this book, Black/Banville describes his novel as "a historical fantasy," saying that "real life at the court of Rudolf II was entirely phantasmagorical," which is brought out very nicely in this book. Alongside the scientists Tycho Brahe and Kepler, Rudolf surrounds himself with magicians, prophets, astrologers and alchemists; we are reminded from time to time of the "magus" John Dee and then there's Edward Kelley (who is now locked away in a castle at Most), who spends his time "writing a voluminous treatise on the philosopher's stone" while imprisoned, and much, much more that supports the "phantasmagorical" element here.
One thing I learned while reading this book is that I really need to follow my own advice about not having expectations going into a novel. I let myself down in a big way by assuming this was going to be another crime novel, so when there was seemingly little going on, I started getting quite frustrated about the snail's pace this book seemed to be taking. Once I came to the conclusion that this book was more intrigue and less crime though, I had to do a serious rethink, and as it turns out, I ended up liking this quite a bit for what it is, rather than bemoaning what it was not. Lesson learned.
While it's necessary to wait until the very end for all of the answers, and while I was not as satisfied as I probably should have been because of the ending, it was still a fun, entertaining and rather dark read. Historical fiction fans will very likely enjoy this one, especially people who like stories set in Prague....more