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Jessica Ball does an excellent job of narrating this audiobook about the relationship between young married couple Adam and Eva. The story opens with the two of them stumbling home after a drunken night out with friends – and more or less ends just a few pages later with the sudden, heartbreaking death of Adam. I was actually not expecting this, and it came as a real shock – it was not as the result of a dramatic accident of heroic incident; there was no prior illness or telltale signs – a young seemingly healthy young man simply goes to sleep and doesn’t wake up.

From there the story alternates between chapters where Eva is struggling to move on with her life in the present day, and chapters which tell the story of how Adam and Eva met, and how their relationship developed. So there is a dual storyline, and the one set in the past is not told chronologically, but it’s actually far less complicated than that sounds.

I’m in two minds about this book – I can definitely appreciate it, because the writing (and also the aforementioned narration) were both terrific. But I never quite loved this book. Somehow it didn’t quite hit the spot for me.

The death scene and immediate aftermath were so eloquently written – not overly dramatic or overblown, but just believable and moving. I also liked Adam and Eva’s friends Henry and Carmen, both of whom have their own stories and troubles (I would have liked to have read some events from Carmen’s points of view, as she was a really interesting character).

The relationship between Adam and Eva was entirely believable too – they loved each other, but yes they got irritated with other, yes they went through bad patches, and it wasn’t all wine and roses. But they wanted to be together. It’s life, and their relationship was easy to invest in.

There were some parts that delved into Eva’s family history, and events surrounding the division of Berlin by the Berlin Wall, and while this should have proved interesting to me – it’s a fascinating subject – it detracted from the overall story.

Objectively I can see that this is a well written book and that many people would love it. I didn’t love it, but I did like it, just…for me there was something missing, but I feel that was more to do with me the listener, than the book itself.

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This novel is set mainly in Berlin, in the months before Hitler came to power.  Martin Kirsch is a psychiatrist, about to marry into a rich family, but increasingly disillusioned with the path his life and his profession is taking.  When a young woman who Martin met briefly a short time earlier, is admitted to his clinic, with no memory of her own identity or her past, he takes on her case.  The young woman was found semi-naked, and the only clue to her identity is a flier for a lecture given by Albert Einstein.  The press are fascinated by the case and call the woman The Einstein Girl.  Kirsch too is fascinated by the case, but his fascination turns into a potentially dangerous obsession.  As he attempts to unravel the mystery of the woman’s past, he finds links with the eminent Albert Einstein, who is one of the Nazi’s most prominent enemies, and realises that danger could be closing in…

I’m in two minds about this book.  It started very well, and I thought I was going to love it.  However, as the story progressed, it became more and more convoluted, which I think hampered the telling of the story.  Generally speaking, I like books that weave fact and fiction, and this book certainly made me interested in finding out more about Einstein’s life, but even as a character, Kirsch himself often seemed unsure what was fact and what was fiction.  This does seem to be something of a recurring theme throughout the book, because at the beginning of the story is a letter from a character who does feature later on, which suggests that the whole book itself was written as a novel within a novel.

However, I was interested to find out the real identity of The Einstein Girl, which is revealed incrementally throughout the story, although it was never clear until the end as to what was true and what was false.

What I found particularly interesting was the glimpses into (now) outdated beliefs regarding psychiatry and the treatment of psychiatric patients.  Some of the ideas which were invested in, seemed particularly disturbing and there was a general undertone of menace surrounding the whole subject.

As a character, I found Kirsch hard to warm to, although I did feel that he was well drawn, and was believable.  Neither could I find much about The Einstein Girl to invest in (and indeed Einstein himself does not come across as a particularly sympathetic character).

All in all then, there were some interesting aspects to this story, and I would probably consider reading more by this author.  However, I feel that it got a bit too tangled up in itself at times.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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This book has some terrific writing, but a storyline that does not match up to it.

To be fair, when I started reading this book I was quickly hooked, and felt that it might even become one of my absolute favourites.  Unfortunately, the ending felt rushed, was pretty predictable and let down the book. 

Still, it was a worthwhile read.  The main character – and the narrator – is William Wilson, a down-on-his-luck conjuror from Glasgow.  Hoping to make his fortune, he takes a job in Berlin and ends up recruiting a mysterious American girl named Sylvie as his assistant.  The story flicks back and forth between Berlin and Glasgow, as it slowly reveals the dark events that took place in Berlin, and how they have brought William to his present state of despair.  To say much more would be to give too much of the story away.  However, one minor gripe is that there was a seemingly unnecessary sub-plot regarding a decades old disappearance of a lady, which Wilson ends up becoming embroiled in.  The loss of this particular storyline would have not affected the book in any way, although it was in itself not an unenjoyable diversion from the main story.

William was well developed as a character – a man who has fallen on hard times, and hopes that his intelligence and cunning will be able to get him out of it.  The other characters were also well developed, even if the story was sometimes a little too incredible to be easily believable.

The real beauty of this book was in the elegant and wonderfully descriptive writing, which was worth taking time to savour.

Overall, while I did feel that the ending was something of an anti climax, this book did raise my interest enough to make me seek out more work by this author.

 

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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