I had one of those afternoons where I ended up wandering around the public library sipping lukewarm decaf coffee and waiting to meet someone. You know, one of those library visits when you’re not properly looking for a book to read (you already have a mass stack waiting at home), but you browse because you browse. And you end up finding on the spinning carousel a murder mystery set in Russia and shortlisted for the Booker Prize and you think, yeah, I’m in the mood for something plot driven. So you checkout A.D. Miller’s Snowdrops.
It’s a fast read and an enjoyable one, but probably not a novel I’ll remember reading (without this blog). Set in Moscow it follows an American expat lawyer as he falls in love with a Russian… some kind of woman. Written as a letter to his fiancee, the reader knows from the outset that all of the drama is safely in the past, but also that something dramatic and terrible happens because our protagonist, Nicholas, has withheld the story from his fiancee until now – just days before the wedding (which raises questions about the viability of their marriage, but whatever). (It’s also a fast read because it’s short: think big text and double spaced. So it’s satisfying to read over breakfast or on the bus because you finish a reading session and find you’re already halfway done. It would, in fact, be ideal airplane reading because you’d enjoy the thing and finish it on your flight.)
What exactly the dramatic and terrible something is propels reader speculation throughout and is, I suppose, the substance of the ‘mystery’: what has happened or will happen to Nicholas that will be so bad he’s had to withhold it for so long? I’ll admit that by the end of the novel I wasn’t convinced that what he did was all that terrible, more that he was so stupid as to not realize what he was doing until it was too late. As a fiancee I’d be far more concerned about marrying someone so daft than someone with a checkered past. Oh well.
So yeah. If you’re in an airport looking for something for a flight, or want a book to read while you ride a stationary bike and train for your summer triathlon season (not that I would know anything about reading under such conditions…), I wouldn’t argue against this one (which is clearly not the same thing as arguing for it).
I admit I bought in to the hype around The Girl on the Train. I heard about it three times in two days and couldn’t resist the summer blockbuster appeal. I bought in to the point of buying the book (something I rarely do what with the existence of libraries and the scarcity of free money), though I got it for $10 as a ‘Heather’s Pick’ at Chapters (my local and fantastic bookshop was sold out and I had to have it Right Now). I’m embarrassed by the whole thing. (Would I be as embarrassed if it had been a better book? Or if J. hadn’t warned me that it wasn’t as great as people were saying?). Continue reading
Terry Hayes wants you to know he’s written screenplays. He really wants you to know that Nicole Kidman was in one of them. And that he’s kind of a big deal. How do I know this? Well, not just from the eight pages of acknowledgements (thanking, get this, his Norwegian editor ‘the first of many international publishers’ to pick up his book) and the author biography, but from his self-satisfied, falsely-modest, made-for-the-movies protagonist. Our polyonymous protagonist who on every page reminds the reader of what an exceptional spy he is (but oh-no, he really didn’t want this kind of responsibility and power), how materially privileged he is (but no really, he was adopted so he understands alienation and he never really wanted to be a billionaire anyway) how patriotic and brave he is (but seriously, the firefighters on 9/11 were the *real* heroes), what a genius he is (no for real, he dropped out of Harvard medical school because it wasn’t meaningful enough) and how self-sacrificing he is (of course not, he’s just too dangerous for friends or permanence). Continue reading
Rating: If you’re so inclined, or you shouldn’t
I love thrillers and police procedurals. So much. Law and Order is a staple in my life – feeling anxious? watch the predictable unfolding of 44 minutes. With Andrew Pyper’s *Lost Girls” (see a few posts ago for his Demonologist) I wanted to be swept up and riveted by the book. The back cover made me hopeful. The early chapters even more so. But, like the Demonologist, the premise and the opening salvo left so much to be desired.
In reading the acknowledgements (aside: I *love* the acknowledgements in novels. I wish they were longer – see Dave Eggers’ acknowledgements in AHWOSG for a good model – just kidding, but not really) I noticed that Pyper had previously published sections of the novel in journals. I suspect (because the book makes me a detective?) that the few chapters at the beginning – briefly returned later in the novel – focused on the young kids at the lake was a brilliantly written and published short story. But the rest of the novel that tries to take this exceptional opening premise and extend it is just… not good.
The suspense isn’t suspenseful. I don’t care about our protagonist. I don’t believe his fear. Even if I did, I don’t care whether he’s scared. The unbelievable elements – ghost woman at the lake who steals children – is introduced as a ghost story within the narrative, not as something compelling or real in her own right. As a result the story-within-a-story that lacks the thematic depth that you might expect from a story-within-a-story and instead serves a simple plot purpose: to introduce the complicating “ghostly” element of the murder mystery. It’s a weak way to introduce this element and that the rest of the plot is premised on this weak element means that well… the rest of the plot is similarly shoddy.
So no, I won’t read anymore Andrew Pyper. Even if all the Canadian presses keep telling me he’s all that. I get it. He’s got some great components, and I’m guessing he’s a brilliant short story writer. But going 0-2 makes me less willing to climb on board again.