The Girl Before by J.P. Delaney

I have been recently been thinking about relocating to a new abode. In the immortal words of my [imagined] avuncular Edina Monsoon,

I don’t want what modern was, or what it is…I want what modern will be.

Amen Eddie.

I also want it on a shoe-string. You know, fancee but cheep! Real estate is bewitchingly compelling. Good architecture that *gets* you, even more so.

The Girl Before traverses, albeit very tenuously, my two current loves. Slick minimalist architecture with a ‘oh-my-god-what-the-actual” thriller. I mean, as Eddie once proffered:

Surfaces. Surfaces. Where are my surfaces?

Who doesn’t love a slick clean benchtop???

The Girl Before skims the borderland.  However, it then gets trapped and is somewhat hoisted by its own petard. The juxtaposition of the premise probably signifies its inevitable struggle between itself. The current infatuation in the publishing world of books with “Girl” in the title is well understood (The Girl on the Train, Gone Girl, The Good Girl yada yada). Throw into the mix slick architecture, a Gen X, Gen Y, Millennial struggle for home ownership and a modern novel is maketh. But it’s kinda not enough. To be an ‘also ran’ in the “Girl” symposium, a tale really, really, really needs to suck you in.

Completely. Envelop. I mean, I want don’t-leave-the-room-avoid-shower-sleep-food good.

The Girl Before is not this. It is good, but not great. As its title eludes, it been done before.

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Before the Fall by Noah Hawley

Having recently signed myself up to another 4.5 years of study (why, why?), I am finding it increasingly difficult to muster the time or energy for leisurely fiction. Between reading text books, case judgments and journal articles, there ain’t a whole lotta time for reading for pleasure. I need to redress the balance because the restorative powers of a great piece of lit cannot be overstated. A lack of time and energy heightens impatience and irritation with the coveted tome. I no longer have the tolerance for a slow and tedious entree. If the author cannot beguile me in the first chapter, I’m out.

Thank you Noah Hawley for answering my demands. Hawley is an American film and television writer and producer (think the TV adaptation of Fargo) and his writing is blissfully sharp and engaging. Every sentence has purpose. Every. Single. Sentence. There are no unnecessary segues or red herrings: it’s all about the plot. And while the prose is uncomplicated, it is not guileless or meek. Hawley’s seemingly effortless text masks a sophisticated structure.

Not-so spoiler alert: the light plane crashes into the ocean and passengers and crew do not survive. What it terrorism? Pilot error? The weather? Such is Hawley’s manipulation, there are several times I was led to believe that perhaps the fated plane would indeed continue to its set destination and passengers and crew would return to their complicated lives unscathed. What Hawley brilliantly creates is a superb character study that is a little bit voyeur with a big serving of entertainment.

My one regret is that I read this tale perhaps a little too quickly and it was over, well, as fast a plane falling from the sky.

The Natural Way of Things by Charlotte Wood

After a couple of false starts, I have truly emerged from my literary funk. The last two books I have read have been glorious and I have ploughed  through them zealously in order to reap the harvest after a long and tedious drought. There is nothing more fulfilling that devouring the sweet and succulent dessert of a great tome. And I am a greedy eater.

From a plot perspective, The Natural Way of Things had remnants of Emma Donoghue’s The Room and a splash of John Fowles’ The Collector for good measure. At the core of these texts is the story of the trapped and powerless. The seized are all invariably women and they are imprisoned, for the most part, for and by the trappings of their femininity. But to simplify the novel in those terms alone would be a great injustice to this literary work. There is a far more compelling message to be absorbed within its pages.

The Natural Way of Things is an allegory on the subjugation of women: the double standards placed on women and their sexuality. The tale at a surface reading is creepy enough. A group of young women are kept against their will in the harsh and unforgiving outback. Peeling back even the slightest layer reveals a treatise on modern constructions of femininity and female sexuality. The trapped women are a symbol for the imprisonment of the gender through time and the historical stifling of women’s voices. Women are soiled by the deeds they commit in the pursuit of mediocre existence and survival.

This book is brutal. And compelling. I never felt very comfortable like a wicker chair long past its used by date. Indeed, at times it made me feel nauseous as it revealed its true self to me. But this text is important. It sits alongside the essays of Caitlin Moran, Naomi Wolf and Roxane Gay and the seminal works of of Anne Summers and Miriam Dixson in its importance to the evolution of modern feminism. As International Women’s Day approaches on 8 March, it is timely to reflect on the movement to suffrage in the not too distant past and the current and contemporary struggles of pay parity and more.

The Good Girl by Mary Kubica

When I was single I lived by myself for a few years – no cats, I promise! – I considered myself a strong and independent person (I still do) but every now and then irrational fears about my safety would creep in at the most spontaneous and inconvenient times. I am not ashamed to admit that the slightest noise from outside had me bursting into a dark room armed with a water bottle (the closest and meanest object on my bedside table). I don’t know what this weapon of choice was supposed to do; drown a would-be assailant in Evian?

So while those moments of suburban terror are far behind me, a harmless moment of fear can be indulged in a good thriller. There are so many of these novels that shape the zeitgeist; Gone Girl, The Girl on the Train and The Good Girl. In fact, The Good Girl is so zeitgeisty I think I discovered it on one of those Internet Lists – ‘what to read after you’ve finished The Girl on the Train’. I can’t remember the rest of the list, but I can remember The Good Girl.

The Good Girl is told from several different perspectives which is a literary device I enjoy. I think it is any easy way to not only get different perspectives, but also move the plot along in an interesting way. The chapters are also marked ‘before’ and ‘after’ so as a reader, you are aware that there is a pivotal moment that forms the apex of the novel. Eve, Gabe, Colin and finally Mia are all likeable and unlikeable in equal measure; the big reveal is surprising and worth the wait.

I really enjoyed this book. I think Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train are marginally better but this is definitely worth a squiz.

Evian bottle not included.

Before I Go To Sleep By SJ Watson

There are novels that take hold of you the moment you read the first word. These are the novels that keep you awake at night as you desperately need to know what happens next and the interruption of sleep is offensive. For me, Before I Go to Sleep is one such novel. It was achingly un-put-down-able where showering and getting out of bed one Sunday morning was never going to emerge victorious after Watson’s tale held me in it’s grasp.

I’m not quite sure where I would place Before I Go to Sleep. It’s a sort of love story come mystery come psychological thriller that I read in two sittings and couldn’t put down.

The opening drew me in immediately. A woman wakes up and goes to the bathroom, a seemingly innocuous and mundane task. But what is soon discovered is that the protagonist, 47 year old Christine Lucas, has amnesia and this daily ritual is an important part of her recovery and remembering. My heart wrenched when she ‘first’ reads the post-it notes attached to photographs left by her husband on the bathroom mirror:
“You are Christine. I am your husband Ben. I love you.”

Christine’s confusion became my own. Her frustration at not remembering who she is and who she loves is as tense as it is frustrating. I want to scream. I shake the book. Remember Christine, remember!

This unfolds beautifully and Watson unfolds just enough to make you keep turning the page. Beauty turns to fright and that is where the psychological thriller takes over the love story.

Run, don’t walk, to the book store. (or click!)