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Posts Tagged ‘unreliable narrator’

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Another audiobook which I listened to while running. Sue and Brian Jackson’s daughter has stepped in front of a bus and lies in a coma. Brian is convinced it was an accident, but Sue believes that Charlotte intended to kill herself and is determined to find out why. As she conducts her own investigation, the story is interspersed with her diary flashbacks which reveal an horrifically abusive relationship with her ex-boyfriend James. Sue believes that after 20 years, James has tracked her down and that her life – and her family’s life is in danger.

Honestly I wanted to like this book. I used to love psychological thrillers and still do sometimes, but there seems to be so many of these kinds of books around at the moment, and consequently there are a lot of cliches – and this book contains them all. James is such a monster that he ends up being a caricature, and Sue was so wishy washy that (in the present day storyline) I found it hard to feel much for her at all. Brian is a background character, who the reader never really got to know, and even though the book is about Charlotte and what may have driven her to try and kill herself, I ended up feeling that she was never a properly developed character. Maybe I’m sick of reading about abusive men and the women who forgive them time and time again – it seems to be a trope in fiction drama lately.

Certain parts of the story did keep me listening, but some situations were ludicrous and the ending was ridiculous beyond belief. I could say why, but it would mean revealing spoilers.

Anyhow, despite the somewhat scathing review, this wasn’t all bad. But it certainly wasn’t all good. I’ll probably be giving this author a miss from now on…but there are plenty of favourable reviews around for this book, so don’t let me put you off!

A note about the narration: I did think Jenny Funnell did a good job, but not good enough to cover the flaws in the story!

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Year of original publication: 2014

Genre: Psychological thriller

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I listened to this audiobook over the course of several training runs. The storyline revolves around a marriage between Simon and Marianne Wilson – and it soon becomes apparent that it is a deeply unhappy marriage and that Simon is a bully and a liar. There are no spoilers here, as this is made clear very early on in the story.

Marianne, who narrates the story, becomes suspicious when her husband mentions a woman who he works with, and immediately suspects that he is having an affair. She has had such suspicions before but this time it’s different. She knows deep inside that something is going on, and that this relationship could be the one that threatens her marriage and could cause her to lose her children. And Marianne is determined that that won’t happen.

I’ll be honest – for the first couple of hours of this book, I was tempted to give up on it. Within half an hour I had decided that I didn’t like either Simon or Marianne, and there seemed to be so much repetition in what Marianne was saying  that the whole listening experience was somewhat tiresome. This is no fault of the narrator Katie Villa, who did an excellent job, but more the writing itself.

However, about halfway through it suddenly got a lot more exciting and things started moving at a much quicker pace. I actually enjoyed the second half of the book a lot – there were two twists, one of which I guessed quite early on, and the other which I did not guess at all (always a plus in my book).

Overall I would say that this was a book of two halves, and I am glad I stuck around for the second one. If you like psychological dramas and unreliable narrators, I would give this a try.

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I am aware that Sophie Hannah is a prolific and popular writer of psychological thrillers, and I have three or four of her books on my shelf. However, Little Face is the first one I’ve actually picked up to read, and I still have mixed feelings about it.

The story gets going immediately when new mother Alice Fancourt goes out for the afternoon for the first time since the birth of her two week old daughter Florence. When she gets home, she is convinced that the baby in Florence’s cot is a stranger, and that someone must have come in and exchanged Florence for another baby – it is this baby that Alice comes to call ‘Little Face’.

Alice’s husband David is initially confused and horrified by his wife’s assertion that their baby has been adducted – he is certain that the baby in their house is indeed their daughter. As Alicen’s conviction grows and the police become involved, David becomes more hostile and increasingly abusive towards Alice.

Completing the Fancourt family is Vivienne, David’s mother, in whose house David and Alice live. It is clear from very early on in the narrative that David is completely dominated by his mother, and that Alice appears to be too. David’s first wife Laura was murdered years earlier, and as a result, Felix – his son from that marriage – also lives with them, though he does not feature heavily in this book.

The chapters alternate between Alice’s point of view, and a third person point of view describing the police investigation. The two main police officers are Simon Waterhouse, a diligent man who has trouble connecting with others; and his boss Charlie Zailer, who has a troubled relationship with Simon.

I am in two minds about this book. On the one hand, I thought the premise was interesting and while I was able to guess part of the ending, I genuinely had no idea about what had happened to Florence. Was Alice losing her mind as David’s abuse was designed to make it appear? Or was she correct that her daughter had been taken and replaced with another unknown baby? And here lies the problem for me – while the ending certainly took me by surprise, it was also a major let-down. Without giving away any details, I will only say that when the truth behind the this is revealed, it makes a lot of what has been said beforehand make a lot less sense. And the reasoning behind what happened is so convoluted as to seem ridiculous. However, the journey to get to the disappointing ending was really enjoyable – it was one of those books that when I put it down, I was eager to get back to it and read more. I do think Hannah made a good job of ratcheting up the suspense and keeping the reader guessing.

I have read other reviews of this book, and it seems that it is generally regarded as inferior to this author’s subsequent work. I’m glad about that because I would like to try more by Sophie Hannah, but I would have been put off doing so by the disappointing ending of this story, had the other reviews not convinced me that her later work is much better.

So would I recommend it? Not sure. I’d recommending giving Sophie Hannah a try I think, but I’m not sure if I would suggest this specific one to start with.

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This book artfully blurs fact and fiction to create an interesting novel. It is narrated in part by Martin Strauss, a man who in the present day, has just learned that he has a medical condition which will cause him to eventually lose his mind; he will be unable to distinguish between memory and imagination, or to put it another way, he won’t know what is fact and what is fiction.

Martin introduces himself to the reader as the man who killed Harry Houdini, not once, but twice. In telling his story, the reader also learns the story of Houdini (although be warned…while some parts of this are absolutely truthful, other parts are fictionalised). The chapters alternate between Martin in the current day, Martin in 1926/27 and Houdini’s life.

What is true – and what forms a large part of Houdini’s story here – is that Houdini was intent on debunking so-called mediums and psychics. He was concerned that a lot of powerful people were reliant on the advice they received from psychics, and was determined to reveal spiritualism as being fake and the people that practiced it as fraudulent. Unsurprisingly, this made him a lot of enemies, and that thread is a strong feature throughout this book.

I enjoyed the parts about Houdini, which are told in the third person, but I think I actually preferred the parts about Martin Strauss. In this book, Strauss is the man who famously punched Houdini in the stomach, shortly after which Houdini died (although it is now known that he actually died as the result of appendicitis, which  may or may not have been aggravated by an unprepared for punch). Strauss is an entirely fictional character 0 in real life, the man who threw the punch was named J Gordon Whitehead.

For me, the real theme of the book is memory – what is real, what we construct for ourselves, and how we separate fact from fiction. We know from the beginning that Strauss is an unreliable narrator, but he also knows this and is desperate to impart the truth to Houdini’s daughter Alice (the result of an illicit liaison; it turns out the famous escapologist was also a rampant womaniser) before it is too late.

The ending does contain a twist which I certainly did not see coming, and I’m still not sure how I actually feel about it. Much the same as I feel when watching a magic trick, I know that I have had somehow had the wool pulled over my eyes, but I’m still trying to go back through events in my mind, working out where exactly the trick was pulled off.

Overall, this is an interesting story and well written. I think I would like to read more by Steven Galloway.

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December 31 1999.  Ten year old Amy Archer goes missing, and is presumed dead.  Her body isn’t found, and ten years later, her mother Beth is still struggling to cope with her grief.  On December 31 2009, there is a knock at her door, and a young woman claims to know where Amy is.  Beth is then introduced to a girl who looks exactly like her daughter, and knows things that only Amy could have known.  But this girl is only ten years old.  As Beth tries to understand the truth behind ‘Amy’s’ sudden reappearance, her enquiries take her down dark paths and reveal secrets long hidden.

I am in two minds about this book.  I think the premise is interesting – I don’t personally believe in reincarnation, psychics or mediums, all of which are discussed in this book, but I don’t think that you need to to invest in the story.  The narrative moved fast, and was interesting enough to keep me reading for hours, but the main issue for me was that I did not like any of the characters.  Not Beth, not Libby (the young woman who knocks on her door) and not even Amy/Esme, the young girl who claims to be Beth’s daughter reincarnated.  The other problem was that this author really REALLY liked his imagery and symbolism, and initially that annoyed me a little.  However, as I got further into the book, I must have got used to his way of writing, because I noticed it less and less.

Much has been made of the ending – I am not going to reveal anything about it here, but I personally did not mind it so much as other reviewers appear to have done.  I think if you are a fan of psychological thrillers, I would probably recommend this book, but beware that it does detail some particularly dark scenarios, which could make for uncomfortable reading.  Overall, I wouldn’t say it was a book I’d rave over, but I enjoyed it enough to read further books by this author.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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