One word for you this month: disappointment. With the vast majority of books (we’re talking 99%) I will always keep them after reading them even though the space to store them is somewhat lacking. I always feel like finishing that book is a little achievement, a tick against your existence and should be added to your bookshelf as a display of your personality. Both books I read this month I immediately donated to charity shops when I finished them which should show how much I hated them.
The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes
I’d been sitting on this book for a while and according to the receipt I found within its pages, I’d been in possession of it since summer 2013. The premise had intrigued me. At that time I read a lot of crime fiction and a plot revolving around a time-travelling serial killer sounded very original and it’d had some good reviews. Sadly, mine won’t be joining them.
With any thriller or crime novel the real aim is to make it into a page turner – a plot deep enough and interesting enough with strong characters that keeps you coming back for more. The Shining Girls fails spectacularly because its timeline fails to make it coherent enough to be a un-put-a-downable read. Obviously this was always going to be a struggle with a time travelling serial killer, but too many time jumps are placed at seemingly random intervals and there’s *too* many (in number) time jumps to keep you hooked. There’s two main time periods followed – those of the killer, and those of a failed former victim who’s looking for the truth. Between them there are then tens of other time frames, jumping around, with other victims and other characters appearing sporadically. Admittedly, the timeline does even out towards the final quarter of the book and my interest did pique but it was too little too late for me. An interesting concept, poorly delivered.
The Girl On The Train by Paula Hawkins
Oh, look what it is! Clearly, I’m very #mainstream this month and finally got round to reading one of the hot books from the past few years (we can thank a charity book stall for this, picked it up in hardback for £1!). It’s the classic premise here that Agatha Christie made famous (she was quite obsessed with trains in hindsight, which reminds me of this great Grandma’s House moment), seeing something through the windows on a train.
The protagonist here is deeply flawed, something we learn in great detail as her life story unravels alongside those of the other characters. In essence, she sees this perfect couple from her train window everyday and then *bam* she’s sees the woman kissing another man who isn’t her boyfriend. The rest of the plot spirals from there.
It’s time for my admissions: I have a deep rooted hatred for novels told in a diary format which aren’t really diaries at all. I can cope with a diary as long as its done properly but this purely used the format so it can avoid creating a tangible story thread and timeframe and easily switch between different characters. In my eyes this is lazy. Listing a date and either morning/afternoon/evening and then having the character’s internal monologue would be fine but it strays from this. It’s not a diary in the classic sense, its presented as what that character’s thinking at that time, and yet, half the time, is presented as if the events are happening in real time. Make your mind up! Is it a diary? A first person narrative? What do you want it to be?
My other issue is that it’s deathly boring and entirely predictable. Oh, look, a person just so happens to be unable to remember the events of the night when it all happened and she’s the only real witness! The characters aren’t as well layered as the author would have you believe; there’s no real nuances to them other than ‘the alcoholic’, ‘the lonely one’, ‘the paranoid one’ etc. And then BAM everything you thought all along and predicted happens at the end anyway, as the big reveal. With a small number of characters the shock factor really isn’t there when it comes to the BIG ending. With a classic murder mystery, say, the small number of characters and motives that each had keeps everything spinning until the end before the climax and everyone shuffles into a room and you’re told who the real killer is. Here, the list of characters is small to begin with and the actual list of suspects is incredibly small – yet, somehow, the book is dragged out to be far longer than it needs to be because there’s a lot of dicking about (not literally).
A film’s due for release later this year so we shall see how that does…
Long Reads & Articles
Neu Jorker I subscribed to the New Yorker for the first time this year having read it online for a few years. Here, the team behind The Onion and the excellent ClickHole have done an *amazing* spoof of the New Yorker, right down to the letters and adverts. It’s the length of an entire magazine! Superb.
Clark Home Counties 1986 saw an interesting addition to the Superman franchise with an incredibly low budget film from a very low budget company. So low budget in fact that they used Milton Keynes to film as New York. This a look around the locations and film’s failure.