Some recent reads in short…

It’s catch-up time again…

Three Days and a Life by Pierre Lemaitre

 While I loved Lemaitre’s Verhoeven trilogy and last year’s superbly creepy Blood Wedding, Three Days and a Life was a slight disappointment. It’s still an excellent suspense novel, but lacks the elements of surprise and immediacy that his others have shown.  It has a promising beginning though:

In late December 1999, an alarming series of tragic events struck Beauval, the most important of which, it seemed, was the disappearance of little Rémi Desmedt. […] the sudden disappearance of the child was met by stunned shock and was considered by many of the residents as a harbinger of catastrophes to come.
For Antoine, who was at the centre of the tragedy, it all began with the death of the dog Ulysses.

Ulysses is the Desmedt’s dog. Antoine lives next door, and habitually takes the dog with him into the woods where he has spent his summer building a tree house. Antoine is experiencing the first throes of puberty and dreams of taking Émilie to the tree house.  Then one day, the dog was run over – Antoine saw him die, and saw Mr Desmedt fling his body in a sack.  Grief-stricken, he runs into the wood, and when Rémi turns up, Antoine lashes out.  It was an accident, but Rémi is dead. This is all in the first chapter.

The rest of the story explores what happens next. How Antoine hides the body, how he continues on with his life and the effects on the community; the suspicions, wrongful arrests, the grieving, and more.

Although there are twists, the ‘can he get away with it’ premise, while suspenseful, lacks the sheer terror of Lemaitre’s previous books. Not his best, however that is still better than many others, especially in Frank Wynne’s translation which is, as ever, excellent.  (7/10)

Source: Review copy.     Three Days and A Life, by Pierre Lemaitre (tr. Frank Wynne) Maclehose, July 2017. Hardback, 256 pages.  BUY from Amazon

The Driver’s Seat by Muriel Spark

It’s difficult to say much about Spark’s 1970 novella without giving the game away.  Indeed John Lanchester’s foreword to this edition tells the reader to read his introduction no further if you’re new to the novel. It is deliciously dark, although clad in the vivid colours of the era. You can sense right from the beginning that the protagonist, Lise, is not well…

‘And the material doesn’t stain.’ the salesgirl says.
‘Doesn’t stain?’
‘It’s the new fabric,’ the salesgirl says. ‘Specially treated. Won’t mark. If you spill a bit of ice-cream or a drop of coffee, like, down the front of this dress it won’t hold the stain.’
The customer, a young woman, is suddenly tearing at the fastener at the neck, pulling at the zip of the dress. She is saying, ‘Get this thing off me. Off me, at once.’

As always with Spark, there are no wasted words. At just over 100 pages, you can – you’ll want, to read this novella in one hit. Lise’s sustained paranoia drives the suspense, and I’m not going to say anything else other than recommending that if you haven’t read The Driver’s Seat, you really should give it a go.  (10/10)

Source: From my TBR.   Muriel Spark, The Driver’s Seat, 1970 – Penguin paperback, 128 pages.  BUY from Amazon.

Heather, The Totality by Matthew Weiner

When I read that Matthew (Mad Men) Weiner had a novel out, I pre-ordered a copy and read it virtually as soon as it arrived.

Another one-sitting novella, Weiner’s tale concerns the Breakstone family.  Mark and Karen meet and marry late, a year later, Karen is preganant at 41, and Heather is the result.  She is the sun around which their lives now revolve.  The Breakstones continue to move up in the world, living in luxury in a Manhattan coop, and Heather becomes a beautiful and intelligent teenager, unusually empathetic.

At 55 years old, Mark’s maximum disinterest in his wife coincided with his daughter entering puberty.

Mark is not the only one interested in Heather.  Contrasting totally with the Breakstones’s privileged existence, is that of Bobby, white trash with a heroin addict mother, a young man with a prison record already, he starts working on the renovations to building where the Breakstones reside. He becomes obsessed with Heather, and I won’t say more.

Weiner tells his story in vignettes, few longer than a single page. I am rather fond of this style of storytelling, which suits shorter forms well. Vignette by vignette, Weiner builds up the tension neatly. We all know that something is going to go wrong.  It gets increasingly creepy and the ending is, well, rather excellently done.  Reviews of this novel have been divided – some rankle at the stereotypes of rich girl and poor boy that he uses, but for me that was the point. I loved it, and I loved the wraparound clear/striped cover with Heather peering through at us.   (9/10)

Source: Own copy.   Matthew Weiner, Heather, the Totality (Canongate, Nov 2017) hardback, 144 pages.   BUY from Amazon.


11 thoughts on “Some recent reads in short…

  1. A Life in Books says:

    I’m not sure I’ve seen a 10/10 score before! On the list it goes. I’m pleased to see we’re both in agreement about the Weiner, particularly the contrast between Bobby and the Breakstones. As you say, that seemed to be the point of it.

  2. Rebecca Foster says:

    The Spark would have been a great one for me to find for my novellas project. Next year! I remember when Heaven Ali reviewed it she also had a hard time saying anything about the plot without giving it away, but I got the idea that it would be deliciously creepy.

  3. heavenali says:

    Ooh The Drivers Seat is excellent isn’t it, quite unforgettable, and very dark but Spark writes so well. I love the sound of Three Days and a life a shame you were slightly disappointed in it.

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      I still like her The Ballad of Peckham Rye for its air of chaos better but this is darkly brilliant. Go on, it won’t take long to read…

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