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Monthly Archives: July 2015

Paula Hawkins’ ‘The Girl on the Train’

Rachel catches the same commuter train every morning. She knows it will wait at the same signal each time, overlooking a row of back gardens. She’s even started to feel like she knows the people who live in one of the houses. ‘Jess and Jason’, she calls them. Their life – as she sees it – is perfect. If only Rachel could be that happy.

And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough.

Now everything’s changed. Now Rachel has a chance to become a part of the lives she’s only watched from afar.

Now they’ll see; she’s much more than just the girl on the train…

Girl on the Train has been one of the hottest books of the year and so from a bookseller’s perspective I wanted to know what all the hype was about and more importantly if it was deserved. At Waterstones, we had been advertising Disclaimer by Renée Knight as the book to go for if you loved Girl on the Train, I read them the other way around but figured the theory would still apply. I will point out though that I do not advise that young females read this particular book whilst on the train as I did, I was going away for the weekend which meant I had to take a long train journey there and back which left me open to some very strange looks (one stranger actually started talking to me!). However, now that I’ve read them both I completely understand why they’ve been paired together, both have mysteries and twists that you don’t quite expect to see coming. What I like about both is that they are not like your average mystery novels in the pursuit of a criminal, trying to get to the bottom of a gruesome murder in an established format but instead is more about the individual characters and perspective even going so far as to have the different characters voice themselves individually.

We meet Rachel on the commute home on a Friday focusing her attention out of the window to see if she can catch a glimpse of the couple she has come to idolise in an effort to distract herself from the disaster that is her own house. That is until she reads an article stating that the Megan, whom she’s named ‘Jess’, has been reported missing and that the police suspect the husband, ‘Jason’, is responsible. Rachel, having become so attached to the perfect couple she’s created in her mind, can’t possibly believe that he would have anything to do with it at first tenuously involves herself in order to clear his name but is slowly sucked further and further in as it makes her feel more and more estimable. The more we get to know Rachel and Megan the more we come to realise that nothing is as it seems and everyone lies, even to themselves.

What makes Girl on the Train standout is its ability to confront your assumptions. Reading the synopsis and then the book itself is a bit like watching The Sixth Sense (I apologise if you’ve not seen it already) where you get to the end and think ‘hang on! That’s not right’ only to go back and see that nothing was technically misleading. The blurb for this story gives an impression that is not necessarily same as the one you are given by the story itself but at the same time not inaccurate. However, that is the case throughout the book as there are lots of little details that you take for granted until they are shown to be completely different later on. Hawkins is the master of slowly introducing salient details that can completely change events and perspectives. I know it seems as though I’m trying to sound as cryptic and evasive as possible but it truly is a difficult concept to explain without giving too much away. The narrative is told by various women featured, in first person but it also spans different time frames. Predominantly the story is told by the girl on the train in the present, as well as ‘Jess’ from an earlier timeline before she is reported missing.

What I love most about this story is that it is that the mystery is really that of human nature, the mystery of what has happened to ‘Jess’ is secondary to that, it is just the scenario in which we observe these characters. Hawkins explores jealousy, abuse, addiction, relationships as well as exploring different character types. It wasn’t until I finished the book that I realised that there is no one good character, not one good person and no-one that is blameless. Girl on the Train was ‘unputdownable’ for me, I was pulled through from beginning to end in the space of two days because I honestly had no idea what would be revealed next!

I would recommend this book if you are bored of formulaic, run of the mill thrillers and want something with strong characterisation that tries to reflect how transient and complex life can be. It’s currently out in hardback, paperback available in January next year.

Have you already got your hands on a copy? What did you think?

 
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Posted by on July 23, 2015 in Literature Review

 

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Antoinette May’s ‘The Determined Heart’

The Determined Heart: The Tale of Mary Shelley and Her Frankenstein

The Determined Heart reveals the life of Mary Shelley in a story of love and obsession, betrayal and redemption.

The daughter of political philosopher William Godwin and feminist Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary Shelley had an unconventional childhood populated with the most talented and eccentric personalities of the time. After losing her mother at an early age, she finds herself in constant conflict with a resentful stepmother and a jealous stepsister. When she meets the Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, she falls deeply in love, and they elope with disastrous consequences. Soon she finds herself destitute and embroiled in a torturous love triangle as Percy takes Mary’s stepsister as a lover. Over the next several years, Mary struggles to write while she and Percy face ostracism, constant debt, and the heartbreaking deaths of three children. Ultimately, she achieves great acclaim for Frankenstein, but at what cost?

Most people you speak to will have heard of Frankenstein and some may even be aware that it was born out of boredom on a rainy evening when Lord Byron and the Shelleys attempted to entertain themselves by creating and telling scary stories. But very few of us really know very much else about its creator, Mary Shelley, the woman behind the monster. For example, I for one did not know that she was the daughter of such radical and influential parents. I also did not know what a difficult life she lead in her late teens and into her early adulthood. In this biography Antoinette May manages to both depict the events of Shelley’s life but at the same time illustrate key moments that helped to shape the novel that would go on to immortalise her forever. But unlike most biographies, May does not just give accounts of her life supported by evidence, she quite literally tells us the story of Mary Shelley’s life up until the age of roughly 25.

Mary Shelley led a life that would leave most broken, by the age of 21 she had had an affair, married, become estranged from her family, lost 3 children, her sister and her husband as well as her step-sister’s two children (one of which was also her husband’s), as well as writing Frankenstein among other things. In the space of two decades she went through more than most do in a life time but still found the strength and courage to continue to live a full life. However, because her life is depicted as a narrative, you become invested in her life as a character. May writes the story with very little emotional inflection from the narrator as none is warranted, she just writes the story as it was rather than asking for your pity or empathy, but it is very difficult not to give it as you watch the characters go through life changing events time after time. Another way in which this story is not your typical biography is in that it does not just tell the story of Mary Shelley’s life, but also sometimes delves into the the lives of the other characters in order to illustrate how they had an impact of Shelley’s life. Characters such as Lord Byron, Claire Clairmont, William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft who had a considerable influence on her.

Although there is no explicit disclaimer stating the authenticity of the events in the story, it is billed as a biography and the source list at the end is extensive so that you do feel comfortable suggesting that these are in fact accurate depictions. However, I found the story to be so intriguing and unbelievable that I was compelled to do some research for myself and everything that I found was concurrent with May’s depictions. On the whole, this biography is very compelling especially as I don’t often find myself interested in reading non-fiction recreationally but this one in particular is so well written that it strikes a very happy balance between fiction and non-fiction. But more than that, what I liked about this book was the subject matter; I never expected the author’s life to be so interesting and really put my own life (as I myself am 21) into perspective.

As heart-wrenching as her story is, I’m glad to have gotten to know Mary Shelley, the woman rather than the writer, better. I couldn’t’ put it down, at first to find out what happened next and then because I didn’t want to abandon her. I would throughly recommend this tale of perseverance. Keep an eye out for The Determined Heart when it comes out in September this year if you’re looking for something compelling, earthy and heartbreaking.

 
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Posted by on July 21, 2015 in Literature Review

 

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