Claire McGowan – What You Did

claire-mcgowan-what-you-did
Claire McGowan – What You Did

It was meant to be a relaxed weekend and reunion of old friends, but then it turns into an absolute nightmare. It’s been 25 years that Ali and her husband Mike first met their friends Karen, Jodi, Bill and Callum at university, a reason to celebrate in their new home. Yet, after a lot of alcohol, a loud cry from Karen suddenly ends the joyful get together: Karen claims to have been assaulted by Mike, her bleeding and overall status seem confirm her accusation. After Mike’s arrest, Ali’s world slowly crumbles and falls, the more she learns about her husband, the more she has to ask herself if she really knew whom she has been married to for all those years. Not only did he have an affair all those years, but also are there money transfers to an unknown account and more pieces of information that are far beyond just being inconvenient: they are purely frightening. But this is just the beginning.

Claire McGowan’s thriller is absolutely breath taking. It is mainly narrated from Ali’s point of you and you constantly ask yourself: what would I do if I were in her shoes? Whom would I believe, my husband or my former best friend? Would I stick to my ideals or try to save the life I had worked for for years? How far would I be willing to go for the person I love? The story moves at a very high pace, just whenever you think the characters have found a way of coping with the catastrophe, the next follows immediately only to make the whole situation even worse. There is no moment to relax and sit down to think through the mess they are in, they are forced to react to ever more complications from one minute to the other.

The plot is very cleverly constructed, revealing its full potential only slowly. What makes it especially delicate is the fact that it plays on those core emotions in life: trust and believe in the people who are closest to you. It hurts a lot more to feel betrayed by the ones you love than coping with just with stressful situations. Additionally, I found it quite clever to put Ali in the position where she is presented as an advocate for women who have been assaulted and speak out against their perpetrators and then finding her in the position where she is inclined to take the other side and rather believe her husband than the woman – and friend! – who without any doubt is a victim.

I utterly rushed through the novel since I could hardly put it down. The short chapters even accelerated the plot and made you read on just one more chapter and another one and so on until the end. A brilliant story that I enjoyed throughout.

R.O. Kwon – The Incendiaries

RO-Kwon_The_Incendiaries
R.O. Kwon – The Incendiaries

When Will comes to Edwards University at Noxhurst, he has a lot of things to hide from his fellow student: he does not come from a prestigious background, quite the opposite with his mother an addict and his father bullying the family, he is ashamed of his constant lack of money and the fact that he left a Christian college since he lost his faith is also something he’d rather keep for himself. When he meets Phoebe, he immediately falls for the girl of Korean descent. Soon they cannot live one without the other, but they both keep some things for themselves. Phoebe, too, has things to hide but the feeling of having to share them is growing inside her. It is John Leal and his group where she feels confident enough to talk about her past. But the enigmatic leader is not just after the well-being of his disciples and it does not take too long until he comes between Will and Phoebe.

R.O. Kwon’s debut is a rather short read which nevertheless tackles quite a number of very relevant topics: love and loss, faith and cult, abuse and how to deal with it and last but not least abortion. A lot of issues for such a novel and thus, for my liking, some were treated a bit too superficially and I would have preferred less.

In the centre of the novel, we have the two protagonists Phoebe and Will who, at the first glance, couldn’t hardly be more different than they are. But when looking closer at them, it is obvious what brings them together: as children and teenagers, they had a kind of constant in their lives which gave them orientation and lead them. For Phoebe, it was music, for Will, his Christian believe. When they grew older and more independent, they lost that fixed point and now as students they are somehow orbiting around campus searching for their identity and guidance.

Opposing them is the charismatic leader of the Jejah group. The way he precedes is quite easy to see through from the outside, but it also clearly illustrates why he can be that successful nonetheless. He offers to Phoebe exactly what she needs at that moment and thus it is not too complicated to put a spell on her. John always remains a bit mysterious, but there is no need to reveal all about him, that’s just a part of being a strong leader of a cult, keeping some mystery and fog around you.

“The Incendiaries” is one of the most anticipated novels of 2018 and I was also immediately intrigued by the description. I definitely liked Kwon’s style of writing a lot, it is lively and eloquent. Also the development of the plot and her characters are quite convincing. However, I think she could have gone into more depth, especially towards to end.

Fatima Farheen Mirza – A Place For Us

fatima-farheern-mirza-a-place-for-us
Fatima Farheen Mirza  – A Place For Us

It’s Hadia’s wedding day and more than anything else she has wished for her brother Amar to show up and take part in it. She hasn’t seen him for quite some time and then he is there. However, things do not turn out so well, but they never have with Amar. Flashback to the times when the kids were still young and all five of them a family: Rafiq who left his home country in the Middle East when he was still a teenager to make a career in the US, mother Layla who came to the country when she married Rafiq, the two daughters Hadia and Huda and their younger brother Amar. Raising three kids in Muslim believe in a foreign country, handing on your convictions and traditions when they are daily endangered by a different set of believes and culture is never easy. Conflicts must arise and so they do until Amar leaves the family. But there are still things none of them knows and Hadia’s wedding might be the day to reveal some secrets.

There is no single word to describe Fatima Farheen Mirza’s novel. I was stunned, excited, angry, understanding, I felt pity for the characters, I loathed them, I could understand them and I just wondered about them. I guess there are few emotions that did not come up when reading it and certainly it never left me cold. Is there more you can expect when reading a book? I don’t think so.

There is so much in it that I hardly know where to begin: there are typical family relationships that are questioned when children grow up. We have the problem of immigrant parents who do not fully assimilate with the welcoming culture but want to hand on something from their native background which necessarily collides within the children. There is love, forbidden love and rules of how a partner is to be found. There are differences made between the daughters and the son, rivalry between the siblings and we have parents who have to question the way they interact with their children and sometimes do not know what to do at all.

It might stem from the fact that I am female, but I liked Hadia best and felt most sympathetic with her. Even though Rafiq explains that he only wanted to protect his daughters, the fact that he limited her in all respects: friends, personal freedom as a child or teenager, even her academic success wasn’t greeted with enthusiasm because the father wanted his daughter to become a mother a take care of a future husband. She had to fight so many wars and was always treated inferior solely because she was a girl, I absolutely fest sorry for her.

Rafiq never reaches the point where he can fully accept his daughters as equals and this is the point where I most detested him. He understood what he did wrong with his son, but he makes masses of excuses and justifies his parenting with his own experiences and upbringing. This is just pitiable because he is stuck in a view of the world which he could have overcome in all the years in a western society. I can follow his thoughts at the end of the novel and surely this is quite authentic, I know people in reality whose world view shares a lot of similarities and I surely would like to know how one can open their eyes and make them overcome the stubborn ideas of women being inferior and parents knowing everything best. I was actually pretty angry at the end when Rafiq finally gets a voice and can ultimately share his thoughts since there isn’t much I could agree with.

 All in all, an outstanding novel which addresses so many of today’s issues and surely shouldn’t be missed.