book review: The Long Take by Robin Robertson

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THE LONG TAKE by Robin Robertson
★★★☆☆
Picador, 2018 (UK)

 

Hmm. I seem to be in the minority in not being completely enamored with this novel in verse, though in a lot of ways it’s certainly an impressive feat. Robin Robertson’s writing is elegant and immersive, the tone is achingly sad, and he uses the form to explore a myriad of subjects – PTSD, the development of post-war America, the advent of cinema… There’s a lot of content packed into this little book, but while I found myself impressed by many aspects of it, there was also something a bit empty about the whole thing.

So much of this endeavor is just very on the nose. The protagonist, Walker, is suffering from PTSD, so how do we show that? By interrupting the narrative with snippets of his flashbacks to the war. One of the central themes is the downside of the extreme modernization of Los Angeles that occurred in the 1950s, so how do we show that? By the characters narrating the ways in which the modernization of Los Angeles is negatively affecting their community. I think I just wanted this to be longer and more nuanced. There’s so much going on in this book, but it’s all there for you to see right on the surface.

This is ordinarily the sort of book I’d want to reflect on for a day or two before writing a review, but with the Booker announcement tomorrow I’m racing against time, so I will admit up front here that my thoughts on this may evolve over time, for better or worse. I also want to admit that I read this in very punctuated bursts over the span of a week which is just about the worst possible way to read a book like this – if you can, I’d implore you to try to finish it in one or two sittings – so that may have clouded my experience with it. And I did really enjoy it, for the most part; I just didn’t quite feel the magic.

All of my Man Booker 2018 reviews:

From a Low and Quiet Sea | The Water Cure
The Mars Room | Snap | Milkman
Everything Under | In Our Mad and Furious City
Warlight | Normal People | Sabrina | The Overstory
Washington Black | The Long Take

book review: Washington Black by Esi Edugyan

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WASHINGTON BLACK by Esi Edugyan
★★☆☆☆
Knopf, September 2018

 

This is the Man Booker title that I was the most trepidatious about picking up this year, not because I doubted its quality, but just because there is nothing about a nineteenth century Caribbean and North American-set historical fiction adventure tale that appeals to me. So with that said, I guess I did enjoy this more than I expected to… just not enough to really understand its inclusion on the Booker shortlist over more structurally innovative and intellectually stimulating titles.

This book’s greatest asset ironically ended up being a detriment for me, and that was the fact that it’s incredibly well-written. The thing that immediately struck me about this book was how incongruously poised its first person narration is. Though the character Washington does show a natural intelligence throughout the story, one does have to question where an uneducated boy born into slavery picked up vocabulary words like unconscionable, inviolate, incandescence, leadenly, and disconsolate (these are only a portion of the ones I highlighted which jumped out at me, and I wasn’t even including dialogue from other characters). So while I would describe the prose as smart and pleasurable to read, and while I’d seek out more books by Edugyan in the future for this factor alone, I don’t think it suited this particular book.

But my bigger problem with Washington Black is the way that the plot seemed to drive the characters throughout the narrative, and not the other way around. To describe this premise and execution as contrived is an understatement. As I was reading, I felt like I could constantly see Edugyan’s hand manipulating these characters into the situations that they found themselves in, and this never ended up feeling like anything other than outlandish fiction. I have no problem with coincidences and fate being used by an author deliberately and thematically (see: The Heart’s Invisible Furies), but it’s a fine line to walk, and if this is what Edugyan was attempting, I’m afraid her efforts ended up seeming to me more like plot devices than divine intervention.

It’s a pacey and readable book from beginning to end (especially the end – I loved the last few chapters quite a lot), but the narrative structure of ‘character zips along from place to place, encountering quirky characters who quickly come and go’ will never be my favorite formula, and though there’s occasionally incisive commentary on the relationship between white abolitionists and freed slaves in the nineteenth century, none of it is really groundbreaking enough that I feel terribly enriched for having read this. I could have forgiven it a lot for being an entertaining story through and through, but despite the fact that I breezed through it in two days, it was a thoroughly lukewarm reading experience that I doubt will stay with me in any kind of significant way.

More of my Man Booker 2018 reviews:

From a Low and Quiet Sea | The Water Cure
The Mars Room | Snap | Milkman
Everything Under | In Our Mad and Furious City
Warlight | Normal People | Sabrina | The Overstory

book review: The Overstory by Richard Powers

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THE OVERSTORY by Richard Powers
★★★☆☆
W.W. Norton, 2018

 

The Overstory is undeniably brilliant, but it’s also hard work, and I’m not convinced the payoff was worth the effort. I wanted to be able to say that I was so struck by Powers’ genius that I was able to forgive the periods of abject tedium that characterized my reading experience, but that would be a lie. This is undoubtedly a fantastic book, but I don’t think I was the right reader for it.

Here I have to echo a sentiment that I expressed in my review of Lab Girl by Hope Jahren: there are only so many loving descriptions of trees a person can take after a while. What I’m interested in when I read is conflict and human interest and interpersonal dynamics, and when none of that is at the forefront of a book, I’m inevitably going to struggle with it.

While Richard Powers did create a host of distinct characters in The Overstory – the first section of the novel is eight different short stories, one following each of the main characters through defining moments in their early lives – it soon becomes apparent that their stories aren’t the ones that Powers is interested in telling. I had more than a few moments when I had to wonder why Powers chose to write this as a novel at all, when it would have arguably served its purpose just as well as a treatise on environmental activism.

Powers is a hell of a writer though, I’ll give him that. I can’t bear to go lower than 3 stars in my final rating because I can’t deny the admiration I feel toward Powers’ craft. On a sentence-by-sentence level, I lost track of the amount of times I paused and reread a particularly striking passage, and the amount of detail that Powers is able to pack into every page is incredibly impressive. And on a larger level, the thematic complexity that Powers is able to achieve with his anthropomorphic symbolism and thorough examination of disparate disciplines and philosophies is undeniable. When words like ‘epic’ and ‘masterpiece’ are being thrown around in conversation with this novel, it’s not difficult to understand why.

But at the same time, I’m just not convinced that it was all necessary. I don’t believe that this book is able to justify its length of 500 (very long) pages. It’s punishingly dense and bloated; I found certain characters to be extraneous and a lot of the detail to be superfluous. But it’s also punctuated by moments of such beauty that make it a worthwhile read, and I wouldn’t be surprised at all if this wins the Man Booker, but on a personal level, I can’t say this was my favorite reading experience I’ve ever had.

More of my Man Booker 2018 reviews:

From a Low and Quiet Sea | The Water Cure
The Mars Room | Snap | Milkman
Everything UnderIn Our Mad and Furious City
WarlightNormal PeopleSabrina

book review: Sabrina by Nick Drnaso

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SABRINA by Nick Drnaso
★★★★☆
Drawn and Quarterly, 2018

 

Sabrina is only the second graphic novel I’ve read in my life (actually I’m realizing as I type this that the other is Fun Home which is actually a graphic memoir, so, technically the first graphic novel I’ve read?), so between me being ridiculously out of my element and the fact that its inclusion on the Man Booker longlist caused quite the stir, I had no idea what to expect from this. And I’m writing my review without having settled on a star rating, so, we’ll see what happens with that. I really, really enjoyed this, but I have a few too many nagging criticisms to say that I loved it.

Sabrina doesn’t really follow its titular character, as she goes missing by the tenth page; instead it mostly follows Calvin who works for the U.S. Air Force, whose childhood friend Teddy comes to live with him. Teddy is Sabrina’s boyfriend, and he’s utterly broken up about her disappearance. We then follow an array of characters – Calvin, Teddy, Sabrina’s sister – all trying to come to terms with their loss, all while being confronted with wild conspiracy theories about Sabrina’s disappearance.

What this book excels at is creating an atmosphere thick with paranoia, in the most terrifying portrait of our modern society that I think I’ve ever seen in fiction. Littered throughout the background of Sabrina as contemporary set pieces are news articles and internet forums; there’s talk of mass shootings, conspiracy theories, fake news. The characters are so inundated to this constant and aggressive stream of tragic news that infiltrates their lives, that the stark contrast of their simply drawn, blank expressions is recognizable and haunting. This probably got under my skin more than anything else I’ve read recently; this is not a comfortable book on any level.

What I didn’t love about Sabrina was that there is just so much going on, and it doesn’t all come together in a completely satisfying way. This is one of those books that builds and builds tension, but rather than culminating in a brilliant resolution it kind of just ends. After I put it down I wanted to give it 3 stars as I felt so dissatisfied with the ending, but upon some further reflection I do think this was so effective in achieving what it set out to do that I can’t help but to commend it for that.

Now, onto the Booker situation, because we clearly can’t end this review without touching on that. My feelings on this have run the gamut from ‘graphic novels are a form of novel and therefore should be eligible’ to ‘how can you compare graphic novels with literary fiction when they’re so substantively different and rely on fundamentally disparate storytelling conventions’ and you know what, I still don’t know where I stand on this. I understand both sides of the argument completely. At this very moment, I think I’m leaning toward the idea that graphic novels shouldn’t be eligible – not as a gatekeeping, elitist thing, because I absolutely do think that the merit of graphic novels has been dismissed for far too long; I’m just not sure how you can judge something like this against something like The Overstory. Judging is always going to be inherently subjective, but it really is an apples and oranges situation. And with Sabrina, the only text is in the dialogue and glimpses of emails and articles; there’s no prose outside that, which makes its inclusion on a literary award particularly perplexing. But, at any rate, I’m glad I took a chance on this one. Booker or no Booker, I see what the fuss is about.

More of my Man Booker 2018 reviews:

From a Low and Quiet Sea | The Water Cure
The Mars Room | Snap | Milkman | Everything Under
In Our Mad and Furious City | Warlight | Normal People

book review: Normal People by Sally Rooney

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NORMAL PEOPLE by Sally Rooney
★★★★★
Faber & Faber (UK)

 

Engrossing, complex, and emotionally honest, Normal People is an understated powerhouse of a novel. As this book ends up being so much more than the sum of its parts it’s particularly difficult to summarize, but basically, it’s a sort-of-love-story about Connell and Marianne, two young people growing up in small town Ireland together, who both move to Dublin for university in 2011.

There isn’t much going on in this book aside from Connell and Marianne’s ‘will they/won’t they’ relationship, but I wouldn’t describe this as a romance novel as much as a novel about being human. Sally Rooney highlights with razor-sharp precision the oddities and intricacies that complicate interpersonal interactions, even between two people who love one another. This book is about miscommunication, but not miscommunication as a plot device; miscommunication as an intrinsic part of the human experience, naturally calling into question the possibility of truly knowing another person. Connell and Marianne’s inability to open up to one another is so much bigger than these two individual characters; it’s about gender roles and socioeconomic differences and power dynamics and social status and preconceived notions and projections and misinterpretations, and Rooney examines it all minutely through the lens of this one ill-fated sort-of-couple. She also has the uncanny ability to cut to the emotional core of a scene without sensationalizing, and I think that’s what strikes me as the most accomplished element of this novel.

I think this book is inevitably going to be underestimated by some because of its premise, and because of all the hyperbolic claims that Rooney is the definitive voice of her generation. But it’s a deceptively clever book; it’s perceptive where it could easily be vapid, it’s clear-eyed where it could be melodramatic, and it has more intellectual and emotional depth than anything else I’ve read recently. A bit of an unconventional choice for the Booker longlist, but it fully earned its spot in my opinion, and I’d love to see it shortlisted.

More of my Man Booker 2018 reviews:

From a Low and Quiet Sea | The Water Cure
The Mars Room | Snap | Milkman | Everything Under
In Our Mad and Furious City | Warlight

book review: Warlight by Michael Ondaatje

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WARLIGHT by Michael Ondaatje
★★☆☆☆
Knopf, 2018

 

You know those moments when you find an author you think you’re going to like, but you chose the wrong book of theirs to start with? That’s what happened with Warlight. This was not a good book, but I don’t think it’s over between me and Ondaatje. More on that in a minute.

Warlight was almost unbearably boring. I’m sorry, I know that ‘boring’ is the kind of pedestrian critique that we try to stay away from while reviewing, but I’m not sure I’ve ever read a book that felt this utterly pointless. There’s no conflict, no character development, no intrigue, no payoff. This book meandered through the narrator’s recollections of his youth in post-war London, halting all too briefly on defining moments, claiming to imbue them with weight but never willing to properly examine them in any kind of broader context. The nonlinear chronology could have been used effectively, but it served only to create such a distance between present-day-Nathaniel and past-Nathaniel that the chapters about his childhood lacked any sort of spark or passion or urgency. The one question that Ondaatje never seems interested in answering is why the reader should care about any of it.

The one saving grace for me was the prose. Ondaatje’s writing struck me as both elegant and effortless. There is no question that this book is well-written, and I found myself pausing at certain sentences, impressed by their construction and insight:

You return to that earlier time armed with the present, and no matter how dark that world was, you do not leave it unlit. You take your adult self with you. It is not to be a reliving, but a rewitnessing.

But despite these flickers of profundity in the sentence-by-sentence writing, there isn’t a whole lot of emotional depth to this novel on the whole. For a novel purportedly about memory and perception and unearthing the truth, far too much remains unexhumed. The whole thing is bizarrely perfunctory and passionless, and there is no doubt in my mind that Warlight‘s inclusion on the Booker longlist is an homage to Ondaatje’s illustrious career more than a reflection of the quality of this particular novel. But, again, I’m willing to read more Ondaatje in the future, as I refuse to believe this is the height of what he’s capable of.

More of my Man Booker 2018 reviews:

From a Low and Quiet Sea | The Water Cure
The Mars Room | Snap | Milkman | Everything Under
In Our Mad and Furious City

book review: In Our Mad and Furious City by Guy Gunaratne

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IN OUR MAD AND FURIOUS CITY by Guy Gunaratne
★★★★★
Tinder Press, 2018 (UK)

 

In Our Mad and Furious City is a frenetic and imperfect but unforgettable feat from debut writer Guy Gunaratne. Set in London over the course of two days, it tells the story of three boys and two of their parents, against the backdrop of an incipient riot caused by a local boy killing a British soldier. Yusuf, Selvon, and Ardan are three friends who live in or around a Neasden housing estate, trying to make a future for themselves in a city fraught with violence and extremism.

This book is a defiant look at the classism, racial tensions, and anti-immigration sentiment that plague not only post-Brexit Britain, but also the previous generation’s Britain; it deals in the enduring and intractable nature of violence and the ways in which that ties into national identity for the second-generation immigrants whose voices propel the novel forward. The violence in this novel isn’t specifically tied to one race or religion – one of the older characters reflects on fleeing Northern Ireland during the Troubles; another remembers arriving in London from the Caribbean only to find himself confronted with the Keep Britain White movement in the 1950s. Gunaratne’s depiction of the cyclical and relentless nature of violence can be disheartening, but this novel is more about the choices the characters make, the strength it requires to turn away from brutality and not engage with it.

Written entirely in different dialects whose cadences and vocabularies vary depending on whose point of view chapter it is (one family is from Ireland, another from Montserrat, another from Pakistan), Gunaratne’s prose is gritty and colloquial but also elevated to the level you’d expect from a literary novel (something that Sebastian Barry failed to do convincingly in Days Without End, I thought, but which Gunaratnre manages with aplomb here – I was simultaneously convinced by the authenticity of the narration and impressed by the prose).

So here it all is, this London. A place that you can love, make rhymes out of pyres and a romance of the colours, talk gladly of the changes and the flux and the rise and the fall without feeling its storm rain on your skin and its bone-scarring winds, a city that won’t love you back unless you become insoluble to the fury, the madness of bound and unbound peoples and the immovables of the place.

But, as I mentioned above, I don’t think it’s a perfect novel; the frantic pace leads a few unwieldy moments, like the awkward inclusion of a sixth point of view character for only a single chapter, or Gunaratne not giving the novel’s climax much room to breathe. I couldn’t help but to think it could have been improved by another 50 or so pages, but at the same time, it’s such a snapshot piece that in a way I admire all Gunaratne was able to achieve with its brevity.

Only halfway through the Booker list, but this one feels like a winner.

More of my Man Booker 2018 reviews:

From a Low and Quiet Sea | The Water Cure
The Mars RoomSnap | Milkman | Everything Under

book review: Everything Under by Daisy Johnson

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EVERYTHING UNDER by Daisy Johnson
★★★★☆
Jonathan Cape, 2018 (UK)

 

This novel was stunning. Everything Under is a retelling of a Greek myth (more on that in a second), set in the English countryside, which follows Gretel, a lexicographer, who’s recently tracked down her estranged mother Sarah. It’s a tricky plot to summarize as it unfolds with a nonlinear chronology, but it ultimately pieces together the fractured narrative that connects Gretel, Sarah, and a boy named Marcus who stayed with them on their riverboat for a month when Gretel was thirteen, before disappearing.

Daisy Johnson’s prose is accomplished and lyrical; of the Man Booker longlisters I’ve read so far, I’d say she’s only behind Donal Ryan in terms of prose quality, which is an incredible feat. This book is stunningly atmospheric; the water beneath Gretel and Sarah’s riverboat feels like a living, breathing entity, and the whole novel has a tone that’s both vibrant and feral. It can be difficult to rework Greek mythology into a contemporary setting, but I felt that Johnson achieved this with aplomb, turning the ordinary into something almost mythical, which perfectly suited the kind of heightened drama that inevitably must unfold in a story like this.

I’m not really sure what’s going on with the marketing of this novel, because in some promos I’ve seen reference made to the myth it’s retelling, and in others I haven’t. I did know which myth it was going into it, and rather than hampering my experience with the novel I think it enhanced it. But I have seen others say they wished they hadn’t known this information ahead of time as the knowledge does naturally give away quite a few plot points. But I don’t think it’s a novel which endeavors to shock the reader with its twists and turns, and with fate and free-will at its thematic center, I don’t think it’s difficult to figure out where the story is headed, even quite early on. So, I guess it’s up to you whether you want to look up the myth it’s retelling, but if you’re a Greek mythology lover, I think you’ll enjoy knowing ahead of time so you can properly appreciate Johnson’s positively masterful foreshadowing and symbolism.

The reason I’ve dropped it down to 4 stars from 5, which I thought it would be for most of the time I was reading, was that I wasn’t very enamored with certain elements of the ending. I have to quote my friend Hannah’s review where she talks about the last 20% of the novel: “Here Johnson makes quite a lot of the subtext text” – this was my main issue as well. The stunning subtlety that I had so admired about the first three quarters of this book was sacrificed for a very literal manifestation of one of the novel’s themes, adding a sort of fantastical element that I didn’t think was necessary. What can I say, I just don’t like magical realism.

But ultimately I did think this was an incredibly strong debut (!!) novel. Johnson’s prose was incredible, and the amount of thematic depth here really took me by surprise. Johnson provides us with a thorough meditation on fate, agency, breaking and mending familial ties, the role of language in shaping us. I really loved this.

More of my Man Booker 2018 reviews:

From a Low and Quiet Sea | The Water Cure | The Mars Room | Snap | Milkman

book review: Milkman by Anna Burns

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MILKMAN by Anna Burns
★★★★★
Faber & Faber, 2018 (UK)

 

I loved Milkman, but it’s so painfully niche I can’t think of anyone I’d personally recommend it to. Set in an unnamed city that’s probably Belfast in the 1970s, Milkman follows an unnamed narrator who’s believed by her community to be having an affair with a man known only as ‘the milkman,’ who isn’t actually a milkman. Told in stream-of-consciousness prose and set against the backdrop of the Troubles, Milkman doesn’t offer much of a plot, but it does provide a perceptive and intelligent look at a community under duress and constant surveillance.

It also starts with these stellar opening lines:

“The day Somebody McSomebody put a gun to my breast and called me a cat and threatened to shoot me was the same day the milkman died. He had been shot by one of the state hit squads and I did not care about the shooting of this man. Others did care though, and some were those who, in the parlance, ‘knew me to see but not to speak to’ and I was being talked about because there was a rumour started by them, or more likely by first brother-in-law, that I had been having an affair with this milkman and that I was eighteen and he was forty-one.”

But this book is hard work, I will readily admit that. Though I loved the narrator’s sharp observational commentary, even I found the narrative style painfully long-winded at times. Paragraphs go on for pages; chapters go on for hours; the kind of concentration it takes to really immerse yourself in this novel can be draining. This is not what anyone would describe as an easy read, and I think it’s the kind of book that’s going to fall under the category of ‘I appreciated it but I didn’t like it’ for a lot of people.

This line of thought actually made me reflect on what it means to ‘like’ a book, because I wouldn’t describe my reading experience as ‘fun,’ necessarily, but despite that, I found Milkman incredibly rewarding. Anna Burns deftly crafts a living, breathing community, and paints a portrait of the realities of living in a city torn apart by civil unrest. Rumors and false perceptions dog these characters, and our narrator in particular, who’s considered an oddity, a ‘beyond-the-pale,’ due to the fact that she often reads while walking. In order to fit in in a society like this, every time you leave the house you have to bury a part of yourself, and Milkman incisively and comprehensively examines the toll that takes. I don’t know if I’ve ever read another novel that so expertly evokes the kind of anxiety that comes from the inability to trust your neighbor or even your own family. Characters in this novel operate under a veil of formality that you as a reader want to peel back to reveal their genuine hopes and fears and aspirations, but of course all you’re able to do is mutely watch them navigate social situations while unable to truly express themselves. This book can be infuriating because of that, but it’s supposed to be. There’s also an undeniably feminist undercurrent to the whole thing, as the narrator laments the difficulties unique to women during this time, though it remains a subtle element throughout.

Though it’s ultimately more of a psychological story than a historical one, drawing obvious parallels to any number of totalitarian regimes across history, Milkman does feel firmly rooted in its Northern Irish setting. This is a recognizably Irish novel, from its stream-of-consciousness prose to its pitch-black humor, and there’s no question that that played a huge role in my ultimate enjoyment of it, so above all else I think I’d recommend this to anyone who loves Irish lit and Irish history, but who can tolerate a lack of plot and likes their novels a bit on the philosophical side.

Personally, I’ll be thrilled if this is shortlisted for the Booker, but I also doubt that likelihood as it’s not the kind of novel that’s destined to reach a wide audience – not that the Booker necessarily prioritizes accessibility, but I would just find it unlikely if all five judges are in complete agreement about this one’s merits enough to advance it. But who knows. This had already been on my radar before the longlist announcement, but I’m very happy that it pushed me to read it sooner than I otherwise would have.

EDIT on 10/15: I changed my mind. I think it’s going to win!

More of my Man Booker 2018 reviews:

From a Low and Quiet Sea | The Water Cure | The Mars Room | Snap

book review: Snap by Belinda Bauer

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SNAP by Belinda Bauer
★★☆☆☆
Atlantic Monthly Press, 2018

 

I was ready and willing to be wowed by Snap, the crime novel supposedly innovative and subversive enough to make it onto this year’s Man Booker longlist. I’ve talked before about the near-impossibility of divorcing your experience with a book from the context in which you read it; who knows how I would have reacted to this if I’d approached it as a guilty-pleasure thriller and not as a Man Booker nominee, but I did read it as a Man Booker nominee, and I’m at a loss as to how this run-of-the-mill, anticlimactic, bland thriller was able to hoodwink five judges into thinking it’s anything more than a supremely underwhelming contribution to the genre (Val McDermid’s influence aside).

But I’ll start with the positives, because Snap did scrape by with two whole stars from me. It’s undoubtedly pacey and gripping, with a fantastic concept: a woman leaves her children in her broken-down car to go get help, and she’s found murdered a week later. It kept me reading and kept me wanting to know what was going to happen. I know that seems like it should be a given for a thriller, but having read many which fall flat on their faces in this regard, it is nice to read a proper page-turner. I liked the setting as well; for some reason crime novels set in small town England have a vibe that really works for me and this was no exception.

Now everything else.

Screw utmost serenity! She had to tell Adam! She had to tell the police!

The writing in this book was so dreadfully awful. I can only implore you not to participate in a drinking game where you take a sip every time you see an exclamation point, because you would be unconscious by page 20. For some reason, Bauer doesn’t believe that emphasis or gravitas can be achieved without embellishing her sentences with excessive punctuation, italics, or some combination of the two. It only serves to undermine the book’s darker themes as it’s written with the dramatic flair of a novelized soap opera.

At a glance the plot itself seems intricate as there are so many different characters who play some kind of key role, but when you start to examine it more closely you begin to realize how unconvincing it all is. There are just so many plot holes (a very unique and distinctive knife is used to commit a murder and the police never think to look into the sale of that knife?!) and coincidences (a boy just happens to burgle a random house and look in a man’s hiking boot to uncover the missing key to his dead mother’s murder investigation?!). Interestingly Bauer attempts to write herself a get out of jail free card on this account, as a character remarks:

He’d never worked a case where coincidence hadn’t played a part, either in the commission of the crime or the solving of it.

… which is undoubtedly true to life in a certain way, but it’s also a bit insulting to your reader, to pile coincidence on top of coincidence and try to pass that off as a well-crafted mystery. Some of these coincidences ended up being utterly inconsequential, too, like the fact that one of the investigating officers lives right next door to the family at the heart of the crime without even realizing it. It just didn’t add anything to the story except for a VERY flimsy moment toward the end where we’re informed by a ham-fisted plot point that their proximity actually did matter! (It didn’t.)

But the most insufferable thing about this book – aside from the exclamation points – was the fact that Bauer just shows her hand too early. The only subversive thing about this novel ends up being the fact that there really is no twist, no shocking reveal, just a resolution that plateaus far too early to make the payoff feel remotely rewarding. Watching police try to prove what the reader already knows is just as thrilling as it sounds.

And I can’t end this review without commenting again on this book’s inclusion on the Man Booker longlist, which in itself caused quite a stir, raising the age-old question of whether genre fiction belongs in a literary prize. When the list was first announced, I was excited by the fact that there was some variety, that we weren’t seeing the same names that are nominated year after year. And I’m still an advocate of genre fiction having a place in the Man Booker and other literary awards… provided that it’s really exemplary genre fiction. I see no reason why a superb crime novel shouldn’t be longlisted. The problem is, this wasn’t a superb crime novel. Not even close. And I’m frustrated that the Booker wasted an opportunity to expand literary readers’ horizons on this rather pointless and ill-constructed novel.

More of my Man Booker 2018 reviews:

From a Low and Quiet Sea | The Water Cure | The Mars Room