The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins (audiobook)

thegirlonthetrain

Title: The Girl on the Train
Author: Paula Hawkins
Publisher: Random House UK
Read by: India Fisher, Clare Corbett, Louise Brealey
Release Date: 2015
Rating: 1/5

Gone Girl part 2. An alcoholic mess of a woman sits on a train day in and day out, drinking warm pre-mixed gin and tonics and watching a couple, who lives in a house a few doors down from where she used to live. That is until her jerk of a husband left her for another woman. Another mess, I should say. Her life is in shambles, to say the least. One day something happens. I’ll let you guess whether or not that something is the disappearance of a woman. That’s a whole genre now, I guess. Anyway, the drunken loser decides to play detective all the while drinking herself into blackouts where she may or may not have called her ex-husband, kidnapped her ex-husband’s baby etc. You get the picture. Slowly the story unfurls and the truth comes out. It’s a very dull and not surprising truth, but I won’t spoil it anyway. The big twist and shock that all the reviewers promised? I’m still waiting…

There are three narrators in this book. They’re all women (though only one is on a train), and they’re all unsympathetic, crazy messes. The same can easily be said for the men in the book. Ultimately this leaves the reader (or in this case the listener, me, unfortunately) with no one to actually root for or care about, so the ending doesn’t really matter. The book switches between the three women and between different dates, and the point is that you’re supposed to kind of play the detective yourself, piecing together different information about the same events. I kind of like this idea, even though it’s hardly groundbreaking stuff. But it just goes on and on. Maybe if it were half as long, it wouldn’t have felt like such a waste of time.

I’m not sure who came up with the “tagline” for the book; “You don’t know her. But she knows you.” but they surely haven’t actually read or heard the book. It’s painfully obvious that she’s a completely unreliable narrator, who doesn’t actually know anyone. Least of all me. It’s baffling to my how this book has gotten such high ratings and such good reviews (at least the ones I’ve seen). It’s dull and the ending is insanely anti-climactic. The writing is choppy and I couldn’t wait for it to finish. Luckily it’s the shortest audiobook I’ve listened to in a while.

The voice actresses are alright, I suppose, though one of them keeps over-emphasizing her t’s and d’s to the point where it sounds like she’s spitting. Nothing special.

I won’t give you any quotes from this because thankfully I don’t have a hard-copy.

 

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

allthelight

Title: All the Light We Cannot See
Author: Anthony Doerr
Publisher: Scribner
Release Date: 2014
Rating: 4/5

I have to admit that the title of this book almost put me off reading it. I don’t like mushy tear-jerky books and this sounded exactly like that to me. Add to this the fact that it’s about a German orphan boy who loves radios and a blind French girl who loves Jules Verne, well, I was prepared to be queasy and rolling my eyes. But I’m happy to announce that I was wrong. All the Light We Cannot See is a beautiful and poetic story. It’s set during World War II, which is always a great setting if you ask me, and it follows the lives of the blind Marie-Laure whose father is a museum locksmith and inventor of intricate puzzle boxes, and Werner who lives with his sister in an orphanage and has an amazing talent for circuitry. The story jumps in time and changes protagonist for every chapter (more or less). We get their life stories, childhoods interrupted by war, but bits at a time and in a non-linear fashion. It’s like our own little puzzle box to figure out to find the treasure hidden inside, and it works great most of the time. It’s almost like a fairy tale, but a tragic one full of bombs and death.

To make it even more fairy tale-like there’s a diamond involved. A blue and red diamond with a mysterious past. Some say the holder of the diamond lives forever while everyone around them suffers greatly. This diamond is said to be in storage at the museum where Marie-Laure’s dad works and some people will go to great lengths to get it. If it exists at all. It’s not as Indiana Jones as it may sound, but I’ll let you find that out for yourself.

“But it is not bravery; I have no choice. I wake up and live my life. Don’t you do the same?”

You would think this is a story about love, right? It definitely sounds like that’s what it’s going to be. And in some ways it is, I guess. The love of a father or sister, or of the ways people’s lives touch. The connection you can make with strangers in dire situations. But most of all it’s a story about bravery and strength. About facing a world and a life that didn’t at all turn out the way you would have hoped. It’s about trying to do the right thing, no matter how hard that is, and paying your dues.

“The brain is locked in total darkness of course, children, says the voice. It floats in a clear liquid inside the skull, never in the light. And yet the world it constructs in the mind is full of light. It brims with color and movement. So how, children, does the brain, which lives without a spark of light, build for us a world full of light?

The book brims with gorgeous imagery, beautiful metaphors and language that floats from the pages and right into your heart. The towns and events are described in such fascinating detail and evocative manner that it’ll leave the images printed into your brain long after you’ve read the last page. At least that’s what it did for me. The characters are incredibly compelling, and both main and side characters are fully fleshed out and the development is great. Both sides of the war are portrayed in a nuanced manner that makes you feel for the German soldiers and the French citizens alike. Doerr’s writing is simply aweinspiring and his story devastating, almost nihilistic.

My only small complaint would be the pacing. In places it’s a bit slow for my taste and the jumping from one character to the other can get frustrating in the middle of something exciting. This is a good way to build up suspense, I suppose. Maybe I just don’t have the patience for it. Overall the form works and the length of the chapters (some are less than a page) ensure that you’re never bored enough to put the book down.

Simply put this is a beautiful piece of writing, though it’s very different from the starkness I usually prefer. But I’m sure that means it’ll appeal to way more people, and I hope it does because it deserves it, as its awards suggests too. So really, who needs my review?

(I do still wish Mr Doerr would have given this a less syrup-y title.)

Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith

child44

Title: Child 44
Author: Tom Rob Smith
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Release Date: 2008
Rating: 3.5/5

I’ve always liked serial-killer books and movies. Both fictional and non-fictional. But it wasn’t until after I’d finished Child 44 that I realized it was based on the life of probably the most prolific serial-killer in the Soviet Union, Andrei Chikatilo, the Butcher of Rostov. He claimed to have committed more than 56 murders and was convicted of 52 i 1992. The fictional version of Chikatilo is just as active, but much earlier.

“The survival of their political system justified anything. The promise of a golden age where none of this brutality would exist, where everything would be in plenty and poverty would be a memory, justified anything.”

Child 44 takes place in Stalin’s Soviet Union where everyone’s a suspect of anti-state activities or thoughts and being arrested is basically a gulag or death sentence as the state is infallible and thus never arrests innocent people. The general population is poor and lives in constant fear of the state and its agents. One of these agents is Leo Demidov, security officer with the MGB. He and his family enjoy small luxuries like running water and fruit. So what do you do when you begin to suspect that a serial-killer is on the loose in a country where there are no unsolved crimes, and where suggesting so could land you and your family in the gulags for 25 years? Do you risk becoming an enemy of the state to save a bunch of strangers? Well I’m not saying. You’ll have to read the book for yourself. And there are definitely worse things you could be reading.

Even if you don’t like gruesome serial-killers, this book is worth reading for the portrayal of life in the USSR in the 1950’s. It’s bleak, unsettling – or downright scary –  and very engaging. Sure, I don’t know enough to completely evaluate the accuracy of the historical or societal aspects of the book. But I’m not sure it matters. Maybe it wasn’t such a horrible place to live and maybe people didn’t get arrested or sent away at the drop of a hat. While a pretty big deal historically and from a humanitarian point of view, I don’t think it matters a whole lot  whether or not these things are accurate, (I think they are, but maybe I’m just falling for some Western propaganda here), because it makes for one hell of a darkly atmospheric setting and helps propel the action along very nicely. Even without a serial-killer, this would have been an interesting read. The cruel inner workings of the agency and the daily lives of the citizens are what made me gobble up Child 44. Leo’s struggle within the system is a gripping story in itself and it made me want to learn even more about this place and time. Thank god the author left a list of inspirational reading at the end!

“Trust but check. Check on those we trust.”

It’s not that I mind the serial-killer story at all. I just wasn’t too excited by it and I almost got annoyed with those convenient thriller coincidences. I didn’t find him so scary –  I’m not very squeamish with these things – though I’m sure a lot of people would.  And it wasn’t all that hard to figure out the whodunnit. Another small complaint would be that the characters are a bit thin. There’s some development, but not a lot and little background information. Had there been more characters, they probably would have been difficult to tell apart. But there aren’t . The dialogue too is sparse and often uninteresting. But let’s be honest, Child 44 never pretended to be high art and that’s just fine. And either way, the story is so fast-paced that you hardly have time to notice or mind.