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.

John Boyne – A Ladder to the Sky

John Boyne – A Ladder to the Sky

When Erich Ackermann first meets the young man in a café he is flattered by the admiration of a man so many years younger. As it turns out, Maurice is also a writer like him and Erich believes to discover the aspiring young man he once was in his new acquaintance and he immediately falls for him. Erich takes him on his tour around Europe to promote his book and the more time they spend together, the more the elderly scholar opens up and reveals secrets of his past to his young companion. He will regret this blind trust just as others will, too. Maurice, the charming handsome writer is quick in beguiling and clever at deceiving those who seem closest to him.

John Boyne’s latest novel is an astonishing piece of art. I wouldn’t stop reading after only a couple of pages. As in other novels before, he is brilliant at creating interesting and outstanding characters who act in a perfectly natural and authentic way. But also the set-up of “A Ladder to The Sky” superb: first, he gives the characters a voice who have fallen for Maurice; we only get the view of the outside and just as the narrators, we as the readers, too, are deceived by Maurice and feel anger and fury because of his shameless behaviour. It is only in the last part that Maurice himself gets to tell his view.

I assume the title is an allusion to the famous “Ladder of fortune”, at least it strongly reminded me of it. Yet, Maurice shows that it doesn’t need honesty and morality to succeed, riches and reputation also come if you are clever at deceiving and manipulating others and if you are cold-blooded enough to betray you own wife.

Apart from the outstanding characters and the noteworthy structure, I also highly appreciate Boyne’s style of writing. It’s sublime and moving and you get the impression that he really cares for his characters – maybe not that much for the evil Maurice. The plot twists and turns and even though you often already have a bad feeling of what might come, you don’t want to believe that this could actually happen. It hurts at times, but this makes it just more authentic.

Jamie Quarto – Fire Sermon

Jamie Quarto – Fire Sermon

He was her first partner and is supposed to be her last. Meggie and Thomas have been married for more than 20 years, raised to nice children and, if looked at from the outside, a perfect life. When Meggie discovers the poet James and writes to him because he seems to be the one who can express what she, too, feels, she sets in motion a chain of events. Months of e-mails, James and Maggie get closer and closer on an emotional basis. Then they finally meet and the faithful believer Maggie and -especially her body – reacts in a way she has never believed to be possible. It is a short encounter, and a second, not even a real affair, but a bond has been created which threatens their lives as they have known it.

Fire Sermon – a discourse delivered by Buddha in which he describes that you need to burn to achieve liberation from suffering. Only if you detach yourself from your senses through the burning process can you reach a higher level of existence. The burning can occur through passion, aversion, delusion and suffering. Meggie, Jamie Quarto’s protagonist in whose head we find ourselves as the reader, goes through all four of them.

She feels passion, after so many years married not anymore for her husband, but for the poet with whom she feels connected immediately. Aversion is what she experiences in bed, aversion towards her husband, whom she loves but not in those moments when he is selfish and she either complies with his wishes to find peace or opposes him and risks a fight. Delusion – she is thinking of what her life could be, how it could have been and what she might get if she gives up her family. Last, suffering. She suffers a lot, from remorse and guilt, but also physically and emotionally. At times she goes through hell.

Jamie Quarto does not narrate a love story, but a story about love. Different kinds of love. Love full of passion, love full of emotion, love that goes deep, love that is stronger than anything else. And love that hurts. There are different layers of love, different types which are experienced with different people. And looming around the corner is always the question: does love require faithfulness and singularity? Or can you love different people in different ways at the same time? And how can this be reconciled with the Christian idea of marriage? The author does not provide you with answers, just with the example of one woman and how she finds answers to those questions.

I really liked the novel even though at times I found it hard to endure. But it is so easy to sympathise and identify with Meggie and her worries that you can easily immerge into it.