Friday, February 27, 2015

THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN by Paula Hawkins (fic)

It seems Paula Hawkins hit the jackpot with this book which is an international best seller and is currently on the top of the list of best sellers in America.  Hawkins was raised in Harare, Zimbabwe and now living in England.  While she has written other novels, this is her first big success. "The Girl on the Train" is being compared to "Gone Girl" and has been optioned for an upcoming movie.

I had high hopes for this book as I enjoy a well-written suspense novel.  Hawkins is a decent writer and the plot is clever.  The story is told with three interwoven story lines, each told by the main female characters:  Rachel, Megan and Anna.  All three women have secrets and fibs are told and a threatening atmosphere runs through to the end.  The time frame slips back and forth also.  It seems to me that a number of popular books today use time frames which move back and forth and stories related by multiple characters.

Most of the story centers on Rachel; she is the girl on the train.  Rachel is a complicated mess.  She is an alcoholic and her drinking is out of control.  It is responsible for the loss of her husband, Tom, and her job.  She continues to ride the train to London each day and carries on the pretense that she is still working.  It is unclear what she actually does with her time in London.  Each day on the ride, the train passes the back gardens of the homes in her old neighborhood, including the house she lived in with Tom and which he still lives in with his wife and baby. Rachel fortifies her self with drink, most often cans of pre-mixed gin and tonic.  The trip home takes 4 cans.  Along the way she often sees a glamorous and seemingly loving young couple on their patio, and Rachel invents a life for them.  She calls them Jess and Jason.  They live several doors down from where she lived.

Megan is the real name of the woman Rachel calls Jess.  Megan is also a conflicted character which Rachel discovers as the plot thickens.  Megan is married to Scott, and their life is far from ideal.  Megan's disappearance is the catalyst of the story.

The third woman is Anna who is married to Rachel's ex-husband, Tom.  Anna's character is a foil to Rachel's.  She reacts to Rachel's stalking of her and Tom and their new baby.  In her drunken state, Rachel seems unable to stay away from Tom and Anna.

Rachel suffers from serious blackouts.  She is trying to unravel the mystery of what happened to her on the night Megan disappeared.  On that night, Rachel arrived home scratched and bloody, and she knows something happened in an underpass after she got off the train.  She knows there is a woman involved and a man, but does not know who they are.  She also has a shadowy remembrance of a man with red hair who helped her up when she fell on the station stairs.

To find these answers you will have to read the book.  I am not as enthusiastic about this book as other readers or critics have been.  It has a similar format to "Gone Girl" in which the suspense builds and the ending might or might not surprise.  I was not surprised.  Like "Gone Girl," I did not find the characters in this book likable or empathetic.   For my money Nicci French's books, "Blue Monday" and "Tuesday's Gone" are better thrillers.

Monday, February 16, 2015

TUESDAY'S GONE by Nicki French (fic)

This is the second of a series by the husband and wife writing team known as Nicki French.  The first book is "Blue Monday," both books crime thrillers involving Frieda Klein, a psychoanalyst who becomes enmeshed in the solving of a series of gruesome London murders.

It is dicey to write a review of a mystery novel keeping the plot minimal without giving away too much of the story.  This series of books should be read in order, and I would not recommend reading this book without reading the first.  A review of "Blue Monday" can be read elsewhere in the blog.  I rated it highly and have found I enjoyed "Tuesday's Gone" even more.  Both books are stylishly written with well-drawn characters.  The solving of the crimes is cleverly done and well-paced, keeping the reader's interest right up to the last page.  The mystery is always challenging and compelling.  The city of London  plays a large part in Nicki French mysteries, and the sense of place is strongly drawn.

Many of the same characters from the first book reappear in "Tuesday's Gone."  The novel opens with the discovery of a naked corpse of a man in the home of a deranged woman who has staged his decaying body in her living room as if he had dropped in for a spot of tea.  Because of the woman's mental state, the police bring Frieda into the case, having worked with her before.  It turns out the corpse has a name, but it is an assumed name, and by the end of the book his real identity remains unknown, as well as the whereabouts of his hefty bank account balance which had disappeared. It is a foreshadowing perhaps of the next book in the series.  It soon becomes obvious to Frieda that Poole was a con artist who bilked needy and lonely women out of their savings.  A bizarre mystery ensues and Frieda unravels it bit by bit until the intriguing end.

In this particular book, there is a clue that Dean Reeve the elusive killer from the first book, will continue to plague Frieda Klein and remain her chief antagonist.  If you were frightened by Dean Reeve in the first book, you will continue to be spooked  by knowing he is walking the streets of London lying in wait for Frieda. You will also know that Frieda Klein obsesses over her cases and finds relief by walking though various London neighborhoods after dark.

As before, I highly recommend Nicki French mysteries to all who like a well-written crime thriller.  This book is much better than the wildly popular "Gone Girl."

Monday, February 9, 2015

THE STORY OF A NEW NAME by Elena Ferrante (fic)

"The Story of a New Name" is the second book in Ferrante's Neapolitan trilogy.  You can find a review of the first book, "My Brilliant Friend" in an earlier posting. I can only repeat all I said about Elena Ferrante's first brilliant book.  All the accolades can again apply to this novel.

The story picks up where the first book ends.  The setting is now in the 1960s and covers the years when Elena and Lila, the two main characters, are now aged 16 until 22.  The book again opens in Naples, and Elena Greco is preparing to go to university in Pisa, while Lila Cerullo is stuck in a disastrous marriage.  Before Elena parts for Pisa, where she has been accepted at the prestigious Scuola Normale, the girls spend a summer together on the Island of Ischia.  Most of the story centers on what happens to both girls in this disastrous summer.  Nino Sarratore, Elena's crush in the first novel, plays a large role in the lives of both girls during their holiday.

As Elena's fortunes rise and Lila's fall, the girls remain connected by Elena's failure to break loose from the dominance that Lila has always had over her.  Language and dialect play a large part in the novels of this series.  As Elena becomes more educated, she begins to use the classic Italian of the north, while Lila remains in Naples, where the characters speak in a local Neapolitan dialect filled with the coarseness and brutality of the life they are living.  Though Elena is unable to break from Lila, she also has used her as a spur to better herself and move away from the class she was born into.  The contrast between her and those she grew up with is sharper than ever on her infrequent visits to home.  In Pisa Elena meets and becomes engaged to an intellectual classmate, the son of a famous socialist professor.  She writes a novel that is a huge success, yet when she returns to Naples, she finds no one there has read it or seemingly cares about it.  She has no part in her old world.

What both the reader and Elena knows is that she, Elena, has a strong interior life that we have privy to, but she has little exterior life that she can call her own.  Almost all she has accomplished, she had done under the influence of Lila, including her writing.  The opinions Elena holds are taken from cues of those around her, whether in Naples or in the intellectual community in Pisa.  She comes to recognize that she does not think for herself.  She is as much a prisoner as Lila is in her failed marriage to an abusive husband.

Again Ferrante writes brilliantly.  I felt like I was reading an autobiographical novel.  The characters are all alive.  There is not a fake amongst them.  They are as real as real can be.  I put the book aside when I was reading of the summer on Ischia.  It seemed those languid days went on and on, and I was waiting for something dreadful to happen.  I think I knew what was going to happen, but it was taking a while to get there.  About half way through the book, things came to a head, and I found I could not put the book down.  I began to read non-stop and finished the second half of the book in a few days.

I highly recommend this book to all readers, but it should not be read before reading the first book in the series.