Amanda Bestor-Siegal – The Caretakers

Amanda Bestor-Siegal – The Caretakers

When Lou comes to Paris, she has quite different ideas from those of the family she works for as an au pair. Yet, her greatest concern is to leave behind her old life. Alena, another au pair, also has left much behind, but in contrast to her outgoing and loud colleague, she hardly speaks to any of the other girls and does not make friends in their language course. Holly first and foremost feels totally alone and only wants to be the friend of any of them. Geraldine, their teacher keeps them together and gathers information about the host families, especially the mothers. Such as Charlotte, who does not work but needs an au pair to comply with the social demands she perceives. Well, she actually does not have much time for her children as her marriage is beyond the point where anything could have put them together again and she prepares its final blow. For none of the inhabitants of the posh Parisian suburb anything is easy in the winter when the city is under terrorist attacks.

Amanda Bestor-Siegal has created quite a number of complex characters who are linked randomly even though they hardly share anything. The most striking aspect they all show is a feeling of being alone, being misunderstood by the world and questioning the decisions they have made. “The Caretakers” is about people who do not really take care, who cannot take care as they are not at ease with themselves. They try to comply with expectations they can never fulfil and are always at the fringe of total despair.

I found it easy to relate to some of the characters when their background is revealed and you get to understand how they could end up where they are at that point in their life. Showing the same event from different perspectives surely added to underline the complexity of their personalities and the mixed feelings they have. However, springing from one character to the next was a bit distracting and forced you to refocus again and again.

Throughout the novel there is also a mysterious aspect about a child’s death. Even though the quest for the answer of what happened could be felt, I could have done without that element as the focus was more on the characters and less on the mystery.

I enjoyed reading the novel due to the nuances in the characters’ emotions and minute differences in the cultures that are presented.

Lawrence Osborne – The Glass Kingdom

Lawrence Osborne – The Glass Kingdom

What could be a good place to hide for some time? Bangkok it is Sarah resolves after she has stolen $200.000 from her former employer in New York. In the anonymous building “The Kingdom” she hopes to spend some weeks alone to have the situation cool down. Soon, she gets to know some other tenants, Mali, a half-Thai girl whom Sarah can never fully grasp. And there is the Chilean Ximena, a chef who dreams of her own restaurant whereas Natalie lives the life of a rich wife and sees Bangkok only as a short stop before moving to a better place. Even though most of the people keep to themselves, secrets move fast within the walls of the glass skyscraper and it does not take too long for Sarah to rouse her neighbours’ suspicions and interest.

I have been a huge fan of Lawrence Osborne’s novels for some years. Not only do his settings vary enormously – Morocco, Greece, Mexico, now Thailand – but he also creates highly interesting characters whom he confronts with challenging situations they, on the one hand, provoked themselves but which, on the other, unexpectedly get highly complicated without an actual good way out. Thus, he brings out the worst of human nature.

At first, Sarah seems a bit lost and you feel sympathy for her, but just until you learn which reckless behaviour brought her to the strange house. Yet, only for a short time do those negative feelings towards the protagonist linger since you soon realise that she is too naive and trusting for the world she entered. All other characters behave highly suspiciously and it is obvious that the young American will easily fall prey to them even though they are all quite diverse and aim at different things, whom their victim will be is more than obvious.

Just as the outer world is shaken by a political turmoil, also the inner world of The Kingdom seems to crumble. Decision have to be made and options have to be weighed quickly. Cleverly, Osborne builds increasing suspense and shows those sides of human character you never wanted to see. Threats appear from all corners, even the most unexpected, all heading to a highly tragic end.