Lisa Jewell – Then She Was Gone

Lisa Jewell – Then She Was Gone

Ellie just wants to go to the library to study for her GCSEs. But she never arrives there and is never seen again. Her mother Laurel is sure that her daughter is still alive, but where? Ten years pass by, the family splits up and Laurel is alone with her grief. When she meets Floyd, she experiences happiness for the first time in many years. Can this be true? Finding love at the age of 55? But why is the famous writer in love with her, this old, nondescript woman? When she meets Floyd’s daughter Poppy for the first time, a vile thought is planted in her head. Was their encounter really a coincidence? Who is that man in reality?

Lisa Jewell tells the story of the vanished girl from different perspectives at different points of time. Thus, the full picture is only revealed bit by bit throughout the story and the tension is constantly kept high. You never know whom you can really trust, what is true and what isn’t, you can guess, but at times, you might be completely wrong.

I especially liked the mystery about Floyd and his daughter. At the first glance, they appear to be a bit too perfect, too lovely and likeable to be real. Just because of this you become suspicious. Is Floyd the nice loving man or is he simply evil? What might happen to Laurel when she keeps on dating him? From the experience of reading thrillers you are convinced that sooner or later something really wicked will happen, you simply wait for it to happen all the time – of course you still hope that by some miracle the nice and decent woman is spared another nightmare in her life.

“Then she was gone” is not a too bloody thriller, but it is creepy due to the characters and you always teeter on a knife edge about what is going to happen next. So, Lisa Jewell successfully plays on the reader’s nerves – just what I would expect from a good thriller.

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Keith Nixon – Totengrab

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Keith Nixon – Totengrab

In dem englischen Provinzstädtchen Margate stürzt sich ein Teenager von einem Balkon. Selbstmord, so die erste Erkenntnis der Polizei. Doch Detective Sergeant Solomon Gray hat ein ungutes Gefühl, könnte der Jugendliche sein seit 10 Jahren vermisster Sohn sein? Noch immer ist er auf der Suche nach dem Jungen, von dem seither jede Spur fehlt und der noch irgendwo da draußen sein muss. Vor allem ist es seltsam, dass der Tote auf seinem Handy die Nummer Grays gespeichert hatte. Was hat dies zu bedeuten? Bei der Suche nach Angehörigen stößt Gray bald auf einen alten Bekannten, der den Fall in einem anderen Licht erscheinen lässt. Doch die Entwicklungen fordern ihren Tribut und mehr und mehr versinkt Gray wieder in der Depression, die ihn schon seit Jahren im Griff hat.

Der Ansatz des Krimis klingt fesselnd und hat viel Potenzial. Leider wurde dieses für meinen Geschmack in der Umsetzung verspielt, so dass nur ein durchschnittlicher Roman mit überschaubarere Spannung entstanden ist. Die Parallelen zwischen dem toten Jugendlichen und dem vermissten Sohn des Polizisten bieten eigentlich viel Raum für Spekulation und nervenzerreißende Ermittlungen, aber dies wird zu schnell aufgegeben.

Die Ermittlungen verlaufen insgesamt nicht sehr zielstrebig und wenig überzeugend. Steht zunächst vor allem für seine Vorgesetzten die Frage im Raum, welche Verbindung es zwischen dem Jungen und Gray gibt, wird dies irgendwann einfach nicht mehr verfolgt und letztlich ignoriert. Auch wird ein großer Skandal angelegt, der jedoch ebenfalls auf der Strecke bleibt und nicht den vermuteten und erhofften großen Knall bringt. Aus dem Nichts taucht derweil ein zweiter Fall und zahlreiche Ermordetet auf – hier fehlt mir die Plausibilität, das Handeln der Figuren ist nicht überzeugend motiviert und zu zufällig, um gerade zu diesem Zeitpunkt wirklich diesen Verlauf zu nehmen.

Der Protagonist hat zwar mit der Anlage seiner Vorgeschichte einige Facetten, die mit in die Handlung einspielen, aber mir bleibt er zu eindimensional und schablonenhaft. Zu oft hat man von dem vom Schicksal schwer getroffenen Ermittler gelesen, der depressiv wird und sich mit Alkohol derart zudröhnt, dass er sich an seine eigenen Handlungen nicht mehr erinnern kann und in geistiger Umnebelung schwere Straftaten begeht – was ihn aber nicht daran hindert im Alleingang dennoch den Fall aufzuklären. Solomon Gray kann mich nicht als Fan gewinnen.

Alles in allem durchaus lesbar, aber kein Krimi, der für mich so überzeugend ist, dass ich weitere Bände aus der Reihe lesen wollen würde.

William Boyd – The Dreams of Bethany Mellmoth

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William Boyd – The Dreams of Bethany Mellmoth

William Boyd’s collection of stories “The Dreams of Bethany Mellmoth“ is not easy to review. As it often with such an assembly of very various texts, differing in length and topic, not connected in any way, you cannot pay them all the due respect in a review. The opening is great, I absolutely liked the the story about the art dealer and womanizer Ludo who immediately after having married one is looking for the next wife. The story about the thief did not really appeal to me, it was a mere enumeration without a real story, whereas the story of the freeing of the monkey had some deeper message. The longest and title providing story was the one about Bethany Mellmoth. Actually, I think it would have also made a good novel if extended a bit. Bethany is an interesting character and I think her make-up could have provided more to fill the pages of a whole book. In the last story, we even get a kind of short thriller which I also liked a lot. You sense that there is something odd about the woman and job for Dunbar, but it is hard to say what is wrong about it. William Boyd knows how to tell a story and he definitely is best in longer narrations such as the one about Bethany’s dreams.

One reoccurring topic in several stories is love, or rather: unfulfilled love. The characters are looking for the one person with whom they can spend the rest of their life, but they only encounter the ones who do not really match or who have mischievous plans. Or they themselves are actually unable to love and to be faithful. Loneliness can be found in many of them which gives the whole collection a kind of underlying melancholy.

All in all, there is something in every single story and a lot of wit in Boyd’s writing make reading the stories a great pleasure. In the narration of Bethany’s dreams he somehow sums at a point what life and the core of his stories are about, what he not only tries but masterly manages to portray:

Bethany is suspicious – this is not normal: everything seems to be going well and this is not how the world works – no. Life is a dysfunctioning system, she knows: failure, breakdown, disappointment, frustration – where are you hiding?

John Le Carré – Das Vermächtnis der Spione

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John Le Carré – Das Vermächtnis der Spione

Viele Jahrzehnte hat Peter Guillam gehofft, dass er niemals wieder etwas hört. Doch dann kommt der unheilvolle Brief, der ihn von seinem bretonischen Bauernhof in die britische Hauptstadt und das Herz des Geheimdienstes beordert. Es sind Fragen aufgetaucht zur Operation Windfall. Anfang der 1960er Jahre kamen zwei Personen an der Berliner Mauer um, Alec Leamas, ein englischer Spion, und Elizabeth Gold, seine Freundin. Deren Kinder haben Zweifel an der Darstellung der Ereignisse. Peter soll aussagen, was damals geschah und Licht in das Verwirrspiel um Agenten, Doppelagenten und den Kalten Krieg bringen.

Als Fan von John Le Carrés Romanen habe ich mich sehr auf diesen neuen Krimi, in dem auch ein Wiedersehen mit George Smiley angekündigt war, gefreut. Allerdings bin ich am Ende doch reichlich enttäuscht, denn in keiner Weise kann „Das Vermächtnis der Spione“ in puncto Qualität und Spannung an die Vorgänger anknüpfen. Zu viele Längen lassen keinen richtigen Lesefluss aufkommen, letztlich irrelevante langatmige Beschreibungen lenken von den eigentlichen Fragen ab.

Die Grundkonstruktion ist durchaus clever gestaltet. Der Spion, der nach so vielen Jahrzehnten gedanklich zurückgeholt wird und für seine Taten zur Rechenschaft gezogen wird. Hier bin völlig bei dem Autor, das ist ein überzeugender Ansatz. Ob es jedoch dazu so ausführlich Peters familiären Hintergrund gebraucht hätte – eher nicht. Am ärgerlichsten war für mich jedoch der Aspekt der Werbung mit der Figur George Smiley – nein, das ist schlichtweg Irreführung des Lesers und Marketing mit bekannten Namen, das hat Le Carré nicht nötig.

So richtig hat mich das Drama um die beiden Toten nicht packen können, am ehesten noch die Nebenhandlung um die Agentin Tulip, die wenigstens etwas Persönlichkeit erhalten hat. Alles in allem zu oberflächlich, ohne jede Spannung und damit als Krimi für mich nicht überzeugend.

Helen Sedgwick – The Growing Season

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Helen Sedgwick – The Growing Season

With FullLife’s service, women can finally get rid of all the negative aspects of pregnancy. No more sickness, no more pain during child birth and no more abstaining from alcohol and cigarettes and all the fun. And the best: the men can play a part, too! Simply use the pouch and have your baby cuddled in the perfect environment for 9 months. It does not take too long to convince the people that this is real evolution, the next step that makes mankind throw away the ballast and dangers connected to a pregnancy and child birth. And not to forget: this is how non-traditional families can finally fulfil their dream of having a baby. That’s what science is for, to lift mankind to a higher level, isn’t it? But progress normally also demands a price to be paid, it never goes for free. Up to now, however, only few people know how high the price really is.

Helen Sedgwick’s novel which is somewhere between Brave New World and The Handmaid’s Tale, raises a lot of questions. First of all, how far do we want to go for comfort and the fulfilment of our wishes. It only sounds too attractive to overcome all the negative side effects of being pregnant. And of course, the line of argumentation that now men and women are really equal since women cannot be reduced to reproduction anymore is also tempting at first. Second, we see scientists who – for different kinds of reason – act against their conscience and subordinate everything to alleged progress. Ethics cannot be ignored, undeniably, but sometimes there seems to be the time and space when you can sedate these thoughts and mute them in a way. Yet, quite naturally, this does not make the questions go away.

The novel tells the story from a very personal point of view which allows the severe topic to come across in a very human way with characters who have feelings and who suffer. In this way, you get involved in what they go through, the loss, the hopes, the fears. It does not provide easy answers to huge ethical dilemmas, but it adds some perspectives and reveals that quite often, there is much more than just black and white and that it is the different shades of grey which make it difficult for us to decide on the core questions of life. Lively characters portray this dilemma in a convincing way thus the novel can take it on with the great names of the genre.

Jane Austen – Mansfield Park

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Jane Austen – Mansfield Park

Anlässlich des 200. Todestages der großen britischen Autorin war es mal wieder Zeit für einen ihrer Romane, tatsächlich der einzige von ihr, den ich bisher nicht gelesen hatte: Mansfield Park.

Fanny Price wächst in einer kinderreichen und verarmten Familie auf. Ihr Onkel Sir Thomas Bertram holt sie in jungen Jahren nach Mansfield Park, um dort mit den Cousins Tom und Edmund sowie den Cousinen Maria und Julia aufzuwachsen. Die vier Jugendlichen behandeln das Mädchen nie gleich, aber sie hat Zugang zu Bildung und lernt das gesellschaftsadäquate Verhalten ihrer Zeit. Als junge Erwachsene beginnt die Suche nach Ehemann und Gattin. Edmund, der einzige der Verwandten, der sich stets für Fanny einsetzt, plant seine Zukunft als Pfarrer und Mary Crawford hat er als seine zukünftige Braut auserkoren. Deren Bruder Henry hat offenbar Gefallen an den Bertram Schwestern gefunden. Überraschend macht er jedoch Fanny einen Heiratsantrag, den diese sehr zum Ärger ihres Onkels und Cousins Edmund zurückweist, denn Henry Crawford ist eine ausgesprochen gute Partie und weit über ihren Möglichkeiten. Um sie wieder zur Vernunft zu bringen, schickt man sie zurück zu ihren Eltern.

Über die Bedeutung Jane Austens in der britischen Literatur gibt es nicht mehr viel zu sagen. Sie porträtiert die Sitten ihrer Zeit und zeigt unverblümt ihre Absurditäten und Schwächen auf. So auch in Mansfield Park, wo der schöne Schein nach außen und die Frage des Einkommens die entscheidenden Elemente bei der Partnerwahl sind. Nur die junge Fanny hat einen Sinn und Auge dafür, welchen Charakter die Menschen um sie herum haben und kann ihrer Linie treu bleiben, auch wenn sie dafür bestraft wird. Dass sie am Ende Recht behalten sollte, war nun nicht weiter überraschend.

Interessant zum Roman ist die Diskussion, inwiefern Jane Austen als Vorreiterin der Chick-Lit zu sehen ist, hat sie doch einem der Hauptwerke des Genres (Bridget JonesDiary) die Protagonistin geliefert. Das COBUILD Advanced English Dictionary definiert das Genre wie folgt:

Chick lit is modern fiction about the lives and romantic problems of young women, usually written by young women.

Ähnlich die Definition, wie sie auf Wikipedia zu finden ist:

Chick lit or chick literature is genre fiction, which „consists of heroine-centered narratives that focus on the trials and tribulations of their individual protagonists“. The genre often addresses issues of modern womanhood – from romantic relationships to female friendships to matters in the workplace – in humorous and lighthearted ways.

Nimmt man diese als Basis und dazu das Wissen, dass Jane Austens Roman eine Zeitlang im englischsprachigen Raum gezielt mit Covern der typischen modernen Chick-Lit Büchern ausgestattet und in den Buchhandlungen gezielt neben diesen platziert wurden, liegt der Verdacht nahe. Inhaltlich bewegt sich Austen auch in Mansfield Park in ziemlich genau diesem Rahmen, so dass der Verdacht durchaus naheliegt. Dies lässt jedoch die sprachliche Leistung der Autorin und Intention der Gesellschaftskritik ihrer Zeit außer Acht, die beide in modernen Werken des Genres eine untergeordnete bis keine Rolle spielen.

Ruth Ware – The Lying Game

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Ruth Ware – The Lying Game

A short message Isa Wilde had hoped would never come. „I need you “, is all it says. The young mother knows exactly who sent it, even without giving a name. It comes from the past, from the time, 15 years ago, when she was at Salton House, a boarding house for girls. Isa, Kate, Thea and Fatima were best friends in their short time together and an incident has bond them for life. Even if they haven’t seen each other since then, they know they cannot escape it. Isa has to go back, she cannot tell her husband the truth, because this would mean risking their life. She only takes her six-months-old daughter Freya with her and heads to confront the past. When the now women are reunited, Kate tells the others what has happened: bones have been found and their well-kept secret is threatened to surface after all these years.

“The Lying Game” is a game the four girls played when they were at school. They had five rules which function as titles for the chapters:

1) Tell a lie;

2) Stick to your story;

3) Don’t get caught;

4) Never lie to each other;

5) Know when to stop.

So it is quite obvious that many lies have been told and that this is where the key to the story lies. The scenes of the past are only told from Isa’s memories, so the reader only gets fragments, the things she remembers at that moment, and she obviously cannot tell what she does not know, what she has buried deep in her brain and what she refuses to think of. Therefore, you as a reader can only speculate about what the girls have done. When it comes out, I was about disappointed at first because I ranked the deed as not that grave considering their age. Yet, since I was only halfway through the novel, I was sure that more would be coming and I was not disappointed. Until the end, new facts were added to the story and I had to readjust my idea of what had happened several times.

Just like Ruth Ware’s novel “The woman in cabin 10”, I enjoyed reading this one. It is not a suspenseful thriller form the start which gives you the creeps throughout the whole story. It is much more a cleverly built psychological novel which makes you think about what you would do in the characters’ place. You can definitely feel the stress that especially Isa is exposed to, torn between her life in the present and a guilt from the past. There are scary situations, but luckily they do not come from bloody murders described in detail. It is playing on your nerves, the fact of keeping you in the dark about many things clearly supports this.

All in all, I like this kind of thrillers and relished reading it.

Mahsuda Snaith – The Things We Thought We Knew

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Mahsuda Snaith – The Things We Thought We Knew

Ravine and Marianne are best friends. Friends 4ever, the two 8-year-olds believe. Ten years later, Ravine is suffering from chronic pain syndrome and can hardly leave her bed. However, it is not only the illness that makes her suffer, but also her memories and now that her 18th birthday has come, she seems to be ready to confront the past. She is writing to Marianne, narrating what she recollects about their time together and with Marianne’s brother Jonathan, about both their dysfunctional families – Ravine’s father who ran away before she was even born and Marianne and Jonathan’s mother who was an alcoholic and didn’t really care for them – about Marianne’s uncle Walter coming to live with them and disappearing again and about that one evening which changed the lives of all the three of them.

“The Things We Thought We Knew” is an unusual coming-of-age novel. First of all because the protagonist who narrates the story is seriously ill and bedridden – how can a major event happen to such a character and change her life? Well, this happened already years before and thus we get a teenager’s view on the things which happened when she was a child. This is quite uncommon since we do not encounter the grown-up, rationally thinking adult who analyses what happened and has reflected on everything. Ravine is still in this process of becoming an adult, unsure of how to proceed and where her life will lead her. She is struggling with her mother and you can still at times see the child she once was in her.

The flashbacks, her memories of the past, the childhood which should have been carefree and was everything but are narrated in a child-suitable tone somehow as if Ravine could really slip in her former self and tell her story from the 8-year-old’s point of view.

The plot, alternating between the present and the past, has some suspense to offer. You surely want to know about the whereabouts of Marianne and about her family’s story developed. And there are secrets of the past to be revealed by Ravine. Yet, also the 18-year-old Ravine is at a crossroad of her life and it is not obvious which way she will decide for and is she is ready to make a decision at all, apparently, something needs to trigger her so move on, so what could this momentum be for a girl lying in bed?

What I appreciated most was the tone of the novel which made the characters come alive and which was well adapted to their age. All in all, a noteworthy debut novel.

Alex Garland – The Coma

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Alex Garland – The Coma

Auf dem Weg von der Arbeit nach Haus beobachtet Carl in der U-Bahn wie mehrere junge Männer eine Frau belästigen. Diese sucht Hilfe bei ihm mit der Folge, dass die Männer ihn attackieren und schwer verletzen. Als er im Krankenhaus dem Koma erwacht, erscheint vieles seltsam. Zu Hause brechen seine Wunden wieder auf, sein bester Freund Verhältnis völlig unerklärlich und Carl kann sich an vieles aus seiner Kindheit nicht mehr erinnern. Aber auch was sein eigentlicher Beruf ist, will ihm, nicht mehr einfallen. Immer wieder hat er auch komplette Ausfälle und findet sich plötzlich an anderen Orten wieder. Er glaubt an posttraumatischem Stress zu leiden – doch irgendwann wird ihm klar, wo das eigentliche Problem liegt: das Koma.

Alex Garland lässt den Leser langsam in die Geschichte einsteigen. Der Vorfall in der U-Bahn, dann die Verletzungen im Krankenhaus und der langsame Weg zurück ins Leben. Mehr und mehr zweifelt man aber auch als Leser an den Dingen, die Carl berichtet und erlebt. Vieles ist nicht erklärbar, man legt sich Theorien zurecht, was der Protagonist möglicherweise falsch deutet, wie sich die seltsamen Vorkommnisse erklären könnten und doch werden die Fragen immer mehr und die Antworten immer weniger. Ein interessantes psychologisches Spiel mit der Situation und eine unerwartete Erklärung, die jedoch in sich stimmig ist und überzeugt.

 

Pearl S. Buck – Death in the Castle

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Pearl S. Buck – Death in the Castle

Sir Richard Sedgeley and Lady Mary have lived in Starborough Castle for many decades. Yet, no heir has ever arrived and the couple has problems of maintaining the castle. They even have to admit tourists to the old building to get along. An American investor seems to be the solution; he wants to buy the castle to transform it into a museum. However, only when John Blayne arrives do they understand that his plan is to dismantle everything to transport it to Connecticut. Kate Wells, the maid, is strongly against it and begs her master to think it all over. Lady Mary quickly brings forward that this idea must be strongly against their will, leaving it to John Blayne to understand who “they” are. In the night, strange things happen at the castle and the next morning, people are not the same anymore.

Pearl S. Buck is mainly known for her novels set in China which also awarded her the Nobel prize for literature in 1938. This novel here, however, is quite different form the writings you’d expect from such a laureate. “Death in the Castle” is much more in the tradition of classic ghost stories of the 19th century. It provides all the ingredients necessary: an old spooky castle, an elderly couple, a young woman open for paranatural doings, the butler who seems to hide something and the outsiders who come to spend a night in the old walls. We have some peculiar and inexplicable things happening in the small hours giving the characters the creeps.

Despite all this, I did not really find the story that thrilling. Most of it seems to be too much of a construction to flow smoothly. The characters are too flat to really raise any interest and there is not development at all. Even the love story between Kate and John Blayne is not convincing, he is immediately attracted by her, but she seems to be either stupid or too distracted to really understand what is happening. All in all, most of the novel is oversubscribed to my taste and thus too stereotypical, especially for an author of Pearl S. Buck’s reputation.