Book review: The Wife by Shalini Boland

(Due for publication on 9th September 2020)

I’m usually quite a slow reader, but I read ‘The Wife,’ written by Shalini Boland, in two sittings. The narrative structure is tight. The story is paced well and there is no lull in the narrative drive. The tension ascends parallel to plot twists all the way through.

I read a lot of books, particularly psychological fiction. Since I read books back-to-back, I often find it difficult leaving one story world for a new one. Often, it can take me a few days to get into a new story, but this wasn’t the case with The Wife. In this book, I hit the story reading! There was no time to brood over previous stories. This takes skillful writing on the authors part. 

The story is written in first person narrative. Zoe is the narrator as well as the story’s protagonist, so we see events unfold through her eyes. The narrative distance or psychic distance brings us up close to Zoe’s situation, and because it is expertly applied, at times, we essentially become Zoe – hence my beating heart!

I did have some issues with characterisation. Zoe’s characterisation was fantastic; however, I felt that Nick, in particular, required more depth. He isn’t really a minor character in this story, so he could have been fleshed out a bit more than he was. At one point, there was a monologue by another character, which referred to Nick’s nervousness. It wasn’t until this point that I truly realised his actions were caused by nerves. If Nick was fleshed out more, this could be shown implicitly through characterisation rather than explicitly telling the reader. 

I also felt there were some loose ends with regards to Dina. What is her story? Perhaps it is intentional that we are left wondering? I just felt that something important had been missed out. However, I still absolutely loved reading the story, and I’m going to buy everything Shalini Boland has written!

Reviewed by Amanda@bonnyhighlands 7th August 2020

Book Review: You and Me

The Unintentional Unreliable Narrator

You and Me, written by Nicola Rayner is a contemporary psychological thriller due for release later this year. The protagonist, Fran, lives a relatively simple life. She lives alone and works in a bookshop. Her mother is dead, and she misses her sister and niece who both live abroad. This all seems normal; however, Fran has a twenty year long obsession with a former school classmate, Charles.

Some reviewers feel that the story is slow to start; however, I disagree. The prologue is sinister, atmospheric, and like all good prologues, it subtly echoes the end. Chapter one begins in the middle of the action when a tragic accident occurs. I think rather than a slow start, there is a bit of a lull in the narrative drive while the focus is on the protagonist, Fran. 

Fran is a first person narrator who is defined by her lack of credibility to the reader. Her version of events is unreliable. While her unreliability is apparent early on, Rayner still takes time to handle Fran delicately by allowing these traits to build and surface gradually. As she narrates the story, Fran begins to contradict herself and it becomes obvious that her obsessive behaviour towards Charles is worsening. She views him through ‘rose tinted glasses,’ so therefore, her fallibility of perception may misdirect the reader.  Fran’s unreliability as a narrator is unintentional. She is an outsider and appears to have other issues, which garners the reader’s sympathy or empathy. The reader doesn’t really understand the true version of events—only Fran’s—so their expectations of the narrative may be upended.

The unreliable narrator is not a new phenomenon, but it is current. I enjoy reading psychological thrillers, and I often read so many that they all blur into one. However, I don’t believe this will be the case with  ‘You and Me.’ The narration reminds me to think critically about the unintentional, unreliable narrator in order to question events.

I highly recommend reading ‘You and Me.’ If the beginning of the story seems slow, like others have suggested, or you experience a lull, stay with it. Rayner is developing psychological depth in Fran’s character which is essential to the narrative. 

Reviewed for NetGalley by Amanda@BonnyHighlands 3rd August 2020

Book Review: People Like Her

The Kierkegaardian concept of ressentiment is at the heart of Ellery Lloyd’s debut novel, People Like Her. Lloyd has married the concept to the digital era phenomenon, Instagram, which is relevant right now. The bones of the story are strong, and it is meticulously crafted. There is a sense of Gone Girl and a dash of Girl on the Train. There are even examples of modern Homeric cataloguing.

Emmy—one of the three narrative voices in the text—plays her  life out on social media. She is an ‘Insta-mum’ and has a million followers. She regularly displays photos of herself, her husband and children on the social media platform. However, once her husband Dan has narrated chapter two, the reader discovers that Emmy’s life has a warped sense of reality. Dan’s version of events is very different to hers. She is an unreliable narrator, whereas Dan appears to be reliable. Having said that, Dan’s version may also be questionable as he is oblivious to his own Kierkegaard ressentiment towards his wife; although, he recognises the concept in her followers.

A bent on existentialism bubbles beneath the surface of Emmy’s flawlessly crafted Instagram world. However, although Emmy comes across as a selfish unlikeable character, the reader can’t help but pity her. ‘The Truman Show’ facade begins to crumble when someone else notices, through tragic circumstances, that Emmy isn’t giving honest advice to her followers.

The third narrator—the follower— bears similarities to the underground man in Dostoevsky’s Notes From the Underground. Similarly to underground man, this narrator goes unnoticed and remains nameless through most of the story, which adds to the rising tension. 

I read a lot in this genre, so I usually have an idea of where a story is going; However, in People Like Her, the plot twists and turns, and flips the perceived outcome on its head. The aftershocks are already rippling through my social media usage.