The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena

29540038Reading all the hype around Shari Lapena’s debut novel, The Couple Next Door, I was expecting a sort of Gone, Baby Gone of Dennis Lehane fame… Only, this isn’t in the same league.

Described as a thriller and using different points of view, it tells the story of young, married couple, Anne and Marco Conti, who leave their baby in her crib while they attend a dinner party at their next-door neighbour’s.  With a baby monitor on the table and checking on their daughter, Cora, every thirty minutes, what could go wrong?

When they return home worse for drink to find their baby, well, gone, panic erupts. Police are called and an investigation ensues. As hours turn into days and suspicion falls on the distressed parents and every aspect of their lives and those closest to them are forensically examined, more than skeletons and motives for the crime tumble out of the closet. Skeletons that some would do anything to ensure stay buried…

I had great hopes for this book. A fantastic and uncomfortable premise that resonates in the real world (think the poor McCanns) and which preys on deeply held fears – the idea that someone could be so cold and ruthless as to steal into your home and not only violate that sanctuary but take your beloved child – is a chilling basis for a novel. The writing is mostly taut and the first part of the book maintains a great pace. But at some point, it not only became a little repetitive (the number of times Cora is referred to as “fussy”, how often we’re told Anne doesn’t trust her husband, adores her father, how wealthy her parents are, how it’s her mother’s money, how much her parents hate Marco, are just some examples), but a bit convoluted as well. You also reach a point where you stop caring about any of the characters except Cora. In some ways, for all we learn about the characters, they’re a little two-dimensional, a bit too shallow, but perhaps that’s the whole point.

In the end, I was speed-reading to finish, especially once the “reveal” happened and the guilty were exposed. I just wanted to get to the end. The twists when they happened were often implausible or too convenient and you have to wonder why someone would go to such awful lengths to do what they did… We’re only given a very superficial reason and it doesn’t sit well. I also found the ending a bit staged for my taste – staged and predictable – but in the sense I was thinking, “oh, don’t let character C do THAT to character D… Oh, you did…” But again, this was a book that was morally very grey so rather than be disgruntled about lack of depth of characters or even an obvious plot point, I prefer to see it as a commentary on the type of people and society and a deliberate construction on the part of the author.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Comments: No Comments

Book Review: Plain Truth by Jodi Picoult

This was another book recommended to me by a friend as something I might enjoy reading while on holidays. Ally, my girlfriend, has been telling me for a while that Picoult is a terrific author and if Plain Truth is anything to go by, Alison is right.

This is well-crafted tale, gripping and moving, set mainly in the Pennsylvania, in the Amish community of Paradise, where, one morning, a dead baby is found in a barn. No-one knows how it came to be there and no-one lays claim to the babe. Police are called in and quickly identify not only the young mother, but the shocking possibility the infant waPlain Truths murdered.

In another part of the country, lawyer, Ellie Hathaway, is confused about her relationship and her professional life. As a defense attorney, she’s often called upon to defend the indefensible and, when her last very high-profile case finishes, she needs time out to recoup and rethink all aspects of her life. She feels like her ethics, sense of self and what she wants from life have been compromised. She escapes to her Aunt’s house near Paradise and finds herself drawn into the case surrounding the murder of the baby.

Working pro-bono, she reluctantly becomes more involved than she ever intended when she takes responsibility for the suspected murderer, a young Amish (Plain) woman, Katie Fisher, who is unmarried and maintains, despite all evidence to the contrary, that she never had a baby. Confounded by this teen, as well as by the Amish way of life, which stresses others over the self and work over leisure, she calls in an old friend to help – what she doesn’t yet understand is that the young Amish woman isn’t the only one needing aid.

This book like so many good ones, draws upon a range of genres to tell its tale. I mistakenly thought it was going to be a crime novel and, while a crime does take place, and a portion is reserved for the fascinating unfolding of the case in the courtroom, it isn’t only these things, but so much more. It’s about human relationships, family, the bonds that unite and tear us apart. It’s about choices, love, loss, about humility, community and faith. It’s about the way the modern world makes us selfish and afraid, but also how denial can be both a blessing and a curse. It’s also a novel about generational difference and the power of female friendship and trust.

At the centre of the story are two women – both strong and remarkable but for the moment, lost. The question is, will they let themselves be found?

Looking for a wonderful tale to lose yourself in? This might be it.

Thanks Ally!

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Comments: No Comments