The Bad News: I have much catching up to do on the book review front.
The Good News: I have plenty of ammo (literary, you understand, not literally) ready to fire.
I have been reading a lot in the last couple of months, picking up a new book almost as soon as that which went before it had a chance to hit the “have read” book shelf. You’ll be glad to hear that I’ve moved away from my cycling literature obsession somewhat and am now dividing my team between cycling biographies (and other cycling related books) and fiction.
I had a bonus free 10 euro to spend in Hodges Figgis, my favourite bookshop of all time and an institution on Dawson St. in Dublin, courtesy of their loyalty card system. I took this as an opportunity to make a shopping trip out of the day! After spending a languorous afternoon wandering around the shop, I picked out three new titles to bring home with me – two of which I’d read reviews on and wanted to get before I had even got to the shop and the third title… was a complete gamble.
Unbeknownst to me at the time, this apparently unheard of novel was just about to be released in the cinemas as a major blockbuster movie. Whoops.
Tony and Susan by Arthur Wright
Well, where to begin with this.
Firstly, if you haven’t seen the film yet, don’t watch it until after you’ve read the book. The film is very good and worth watching but the characters in the movie (and the actors/actresses used) are very different to what I had imagined from reading the book. It’s not a show stopper, but it is quite different.
You are reading a novel about someone else reading a novel, which initially might turn you off all that reading. But no, it works and it was brilliantly done. I loved the way this book was written, from the way the protagonist and her own story is weaved in and out from the internal novel is utterly flawless and makes for truly addictive reading.
This kind of structure has the potential to lead to a stilted, annoying flow so to execute it as skilfully as the writer has here is an achievement to be applauded.
The central character is Susan Morrow who is gifted a draft novel by her estranged ex-husband and asked to read it for her valuable critique. She then sits down to read the novel over the course of three sittings, following the story of Tony and his family who are subjected to a terrible crime along a remote US highway.
I didn’t particularly any of the characters in this novel, with none of them demonstrating much likeability. But I thought they were well-crafted and I had no trouble with the image I had in my head for each and every character. This is remarkably absent from so many novels nowadays that I feel the need to highlight this skill when it does present itself.
The structure of this novel is divided, as I mentioned, into three sittings during which the protagonist reads the novel. In between, there are numerous interludes where we learn more about Susan’s own life and her backstory. All the while wondering what possible connection there might be between her story and the one she is reading. It flows effortlessly and if you had the time, you could quite easily read this in one sitting.
This book is utterly addictive. You want to keep reading. You want to know what’s going to happen next. You really want to know what’s going to happen at the end. This is one of the rare novels where the atmosphere and intensity of the book builds relentlessly and the reader remains glued to the pages with an impending sense of horror yet to be revealed.
A physical anxiety in my chest sat without rest for the few days it took me to get through this novel. My mind raced through possibilities as I made my way toward the ending and it refused to let it go even when I wasn’t reading it.
I still think about now, a week later after finishing it. I keep playing it over on my head, thinking about the characters, wondering about what happened, wanting to re-read it almost immediately just to make sure I didn’t miss anything.
I gave it to my mom just so I have someone to talk about it with. And I will be giving it to friends, family and anyone else willing to read it… just so I have more people to talk about it with!
There are very few books that make this level for me. We Need to Talk About Kevin is what it reminds of. Impending sense of horror, deep anxiety and utter suspense.
Oh and by the way, the movie is very good and I would highly recommend watching it, but just to note that although in one way, the film is quite true to the book, it’s not necessarily how I imagined it.
Would love to hear your thoughts if you’ve read this novel yourself! Please leave a comment below!