Title: The Girl on the Train
Author: Paula Hawkins
Publisher: Random House UK
Read by: India Fisher, Clare Corbett, Louise Brealey
Release Date: 2015
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.
Title: Child 44
Author: Tom Rob Smith
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Release Date: 2008
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.
Title: The Redemption of Galen Pike
Author: Carys Davies
Publisher: Salt Publishing
Release Date: 2014
I love short stories. I love how they allow me to go to so many different places and have so many different experience, while not putting too much of a strain on my attention span. I’m full of admiration for writers who master the form, who are able to tell engaging stories and create believable characters in such little space. Carys Davies is definitely one of them. In her concise language and tight narratives, Davies illustrates how far apart we are and how little we know of each other. Set in such diverse places as a Colorado jail, a Siberian inn and the Cumbrian fells, her quirky stories tell of life, death, loss and human bonding. Some stories are barely a page long, some are hardly stories at all, and some are decidedly puzzling. Some of the stories I liked very much and some I hardly remember now. I guess that’s often the case with short story collections, even if they are very very slim (148 pages).
My favorite short story collections are unsettling and surprising, often with a dark twist. This is where I feel The Redemption of Galen Pike is lacking. It does have some unnerving stories, flashes of menace, and a lot of harsh settings, all of which I enjoyed. But overall the style is a bit too light, a bit too playful. The characters seemingly diverse but all ultimately seeking friendship and understanding. Several of the main characters felt very similar, to the point where it sometimes took me a while to figure out their gender. It’s no bad collection and Davies has won a lot of awards for her stories, but it kind of missed the mark for me. Maybe I’m just generally more interested in deterioration than redemption. But go ahead, give it a go. If you’re new to short stories, this could be a decent place to start (and then you move on to Dahl, Yates and Jackson), and the book itself is very pretty!