Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Greer Hendricks Sarah Pekkanen - The Wife Between Us

Publisher: MacMillan
Authors: Greer Henricks Sarah Pekkanen
Title: The Wife Between Us

Right in the first chapter the new bride to be is frightened when she thinks she just saw someone in her wedding dress. The image instantly reminds you of Jane Eyre. This feeling gets stronger when you read on to find that a soon to be married young couple is being stalked by a jealous, paranoid ex-wife of the groom.

Charlotte Bronte wrote about the mad wife in the attic because it was such a great twist, one of the best ever.  How can a couple in love ever surmount a problem like this? With Rochester married to a mad woman from the Caribbean, how could Jane ever be with him. This angle has been used so often in literature after this.  This book, however, starts at this point.  In these times, divorces have made it possible for married people to get unmarried and marry others. Yet, how does one tackle a jealous ex-wife who does not seem to be able to move on?

The book moves at a steady pace and there are many revelations, strategically placed, that alter your perception of the characters.  Halfway through, you don't who the bad guy is. It could be any of the protagonists. The husband Richard, is handsome, successful and rich.  He is a dream boyfriend, caring and understanding. But he takes unilateral decisions in the relationship and looks a little controlling. Vanessa the ex-wife is haunted by her breakup.  She is an alcoholic and seems paranoid. But is she more sinned against than sinning? The new wife is sweet as sugar and malleable but are her intentions honorable? Is she in this just for the love of Richard?

There are a minimum of characters which keeps the story lean and focused; Sam (Vanessa's roommate and bestie), Aunt Charlotte (the only family Vanessa has), Vanessa, Richard and his new bride-to-be, Richard's sister Maureen. I was rather amused to note that Richard is the only major male character.  So long women have cribbed that the spotlight was taken by male characters and at times (Lord of the Rings being a particular case) female characters few and far between.

I loved the way the story moves, you are taken through many bends and at each bend you are surprised and drawn in. This is very skillful as the narrator is only one.  It can be easy to narrate different viewpoints through different voices but to narrate different viewpoints through only one voice is very tricky.  It has been handled to great effect.  My only grouse with the book is that the climax was not as clipped and quick as the rest of the book. It was rather long drawn.  I am sure many readers will love the climax nevertheless. It did not spoil the book for me though.  I still love it.

There was a long queue on the book in the library, I can see why.  It is a new release and has got rave reviews.  I was also swayed into reading this book by one such recommendation and am glad I did.

It has been likened to The Girl on the Train and Gone Girl. Like these books, you don't know what is coming next. Which character is going to do a perception change next? However, despite these similarities, this book is not a copy of those previous best sellers.  It is very much its own book and well worth picking up.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Alexander McCall Smith - Love over Scotland

Publisher: Anchor Books
Author: Alexander McCall Smith
Title: Love over Scotland

Alexander McCall Smith is among the top of my favorite writers. He is contemporary, successful and consistent. He is most famous for his series The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency.  I was in love with his Isabel Dalhousie series and was feeling a bit bereft when it ended.

I read 44 Scotland Street, the first book in this series quite a while ago. The title is the address of an apartment block in what is known as Edinburgh's New Town. The first book was primarily about some tenants of the apartment block. Pat is an art student who works part time at Matthew's art gallery. Irene and Stuart are a young couple in the same apartment block. They have a gifted young son called Bertie. Another resident, Domenica, is a social scientist.

There are short chapters that carry the story forward slowly, focusing on one or two characters at a time. So far I have read only two books in the series and they seem to chart the happenings a year at a time.

On the surface, the book seems to be full of small incidents, not very remarkable at times.  I soon realized that our life is like that.  There are a series of small events, things we would not even bother to recount to our friends but collectively they make up our lives.  Just when we are getting used to the small incidents, something big happens. Angus' dog Cyril is stolen, Bertie gets left behind in Paris by his orchestra mates

I was reminded of Sketches by Boz and also Pickwick Papers the latter especially when things get very funny. There were many times that I found myself laughing out loud.  The characters have their quirks which are well exploited by the author.  I found the exchanges between Irene and her son, Bertie very funny. Irene is very determined about what her son should do and rides roughshod over his feelings.  Most times Bertie just wants to be left alone which is something Irene never listens to.

Matthew was my favorite character in the first book and I was happy to see him more successful in this book.  Angus Lordie, Big Lou, Domenica, Pat, Matthew, Bertie, Stuart, Irene are described with such warmth that we cannot help feeling attached to them. 

I am glad that there are 12 books in the series, I can have a whale of a time reading through them.

Friday, February 02, 2018

Suki Kim - The Interpreter

Publisher: Farar, Straus and Giroux
Author: Suki Kim
Title: The Interpreter

Who are Interpreters? Those who convey the meaning of what is said in one language in another? Or those who interpret one way of life to another?

Suzy Park makes a living as an interpreter.  Her job is to translate the questions that the lawyer asks Korean people who are not conversant in English and also interpret their replies.  Interpreting comes naturally to her.  She spent her life doing it.  Her parents could speak only Korean and she and her older sister Grace habitually translated to and fro for them.

Until she left home, kicked out by her father when he found out that she was sleeping with a married man.  Some years after this, her father and mother were killed in their store, shot through the heart. Suzy goes into a tailspin.  She is heartbroken that she never got a chance to make up with her parents. What's more, her sister Grace has cut off all ties with her. 

She flounders through life until one day she chances upon a man who mentions her parents during his deposition. There is more to the murder of her parents than meets the eye. Only a person who knows the nuances of the way a Korean thinks can solve this tangled mess. In the process we get to see the messy underbelly of illegal immigrants, caught in a corner, working hard but never really making it. Some fall into depression and some turn to unsavory acts to survive.

While the first generation of immigrants is trying to make ends meet and survive in a country where everything is alien to them, the children have a task of their own.  Part of them wants to blend in to the American culture, part of them wants to stay true to their own culture. They are forever at odds with their own selves.

How fast you go though a novel depends on how interesting you find it. I was barely able to put down the book. (My kindle actually.) I am still a little panda-eyed from having stayed up to finish the book.
The book starts slow and you wonder why the protagonist, Suzy, is so full of angst.  Soon we are in thick of things. 

Even though the book is about murder and the mystery surrounding it, it cannot be called a thriller.
It can be called a noir psychological murder mystery which has to be solved, not so much by chasing after things, as by interpreting the events that have taken place in the past.

The interpreter, however, is the shadow. The key is to be invisible. She is the only one in the room who hears the truth, a keeper of secrets.