Megan Abbott – The Turnout

Megan Abbott – The Turnout

Ballet has always been the world of sisters Dara and Marie. Their glamourous mother, a former ballet soloist, had kept them close and after the parents’ death, they have taken over the Durant School of Dance together with Dara’s husband Charlie who had become a family member as a boy. When a fire destroys one of their studios amidst the preparations of their biggest annual event, the performance of “The Nutcracker”, they hire Derek, a seemingly highly skilled contractor, to have everything restored as quickly as possible. Yet, they do not have the least idea of whom they let into their studio and lives. The fire was just the beginning of a series of dreadful events which will change their lives forever.

“No one wanted to face the truth. That every family was a hothouse, a swamp. Its own atmosphere, its own rules. Its own laws and gods. There would never be any understanding from the outside. There couldn’t be.”

Megan Abbott is a master of foreshadowing and again has created unique characters who reveal their full potential slowly throughout the novel. The title – “The Turnout” – is quite ambiguous but perfectly fits in several respects. A turnout is a demanding move in ballet and that’s what the sisters expects from their élèves. Secondly, it is also the moment where you are confronted with different directions and have to decide for one. Thirdly, it is a clearing out, an act of cleaning what has been spoilt. All three can be found in the novel. The preparation for the ballet performance is at the centre when the sisters get into a deep conflict in which they decide for different roads and, in the end, the initial state is restored and all disruptive factors are cleared. At least they might think so.

The novel moves at a rather slow pace but this adds the creepy atmosphere which makes the plot quite authentic. The threat does not come in in an obvious way, it is sneaking into their lives with a friendly and smiling face like a predator who observes his prey, gets closer and tenaciously waits for the perfect moment to attack.

It is also a novel about family structures and sisterly bonds. Quite obviously, their mother’s way of keeping the girls away from other children, of treating them in a special – or rather: strange – way to form them according to her own ideals cannot be healthy. Dara and Marie become like two sides of one coin, an inseparable unit which even cannot be divided by Charlie who integrates into their union. No wonder, at a certain point in life, such a bond is threatened and the lack of experience with people makes them even more vulnerable than others might have been.

From a psychological point of view, an outstanding novel which is also full of spine-chilling suspense.

Megha Majumdar – A Burning

Megha Majumdar – A Burning

Jivan has seized her chances in life. Having grown up in one of Kolkata’s slums, there was not much to expect, but an NGO enabled her to go to school, learn proper English and see how the middle classes live. Yet, after grade ten, she decides to get a job to support her old and ill parents. The newly earned money also offers luxuries she has never known, cigarettes and even a smartphone. One evening, she witnesses an attack at her local train station and soon after, leaves a comment on Facebook which is widely ignored. Yet, when the culprits cannot be traced, somebody else is needed to pay for the victims and thus, Jivan suddenly finds herself in prison. This can only be a mistake, she is innocent and will soon be free again. But she is totally mistaken there.

Megha Majumdar’s novel is a story about dreams and a better life. Her three protagonists, whose stories are told alternatingly, all have their respective dreams: Jivan wants to live like the middle classes, be able to afford enough food and offer herself some small luxuries. Her friend Lovely, a hijra, dreams of a career in film business and is willing to do everything to promote her career. Jivan’s former teacher PT Sir dreams of power which is unexpectedly provided to him – at the cost of somebody else, but who wouldn’t look for themselves first?

“All of them are ignoring me. The public is wanting blood. The media is wanting death.”

The novel works on several levels, at one end of the scale, there is the personal point of view, at the other end, the political. Looking at the first, we have Jivan and Lovely from the very bottom of the Indian society. They are both working hard and so do Jivan’s parents, nevertheless, they depend on the mercy of others to advance a bit in life. More often than that, they are hit by injustice and at times, beaten in the very sense of the word. It is a highly divided society in which everybody’s place is fixed, upwards mobility is not something to be achieved easily.

On the political level, we see PT Sir and the next big party who have perfected the election campaign in telling people what they want to hear and framing incidents for their own benefit. The individual does not play a role, only in so far as individual politicians want to gain more power and money. One corrupt party is replaced by the next and the novel does not provide the slightest hope of any improvement of the situation.

For the reader, it is quite obvious from the start where all is heading, nevertheless, it is heart-wrenching to follow the unfairness and injustice which are done to Jivan. A great development of the protagonists who are not fully to blame, their behaviour cannot simply be explained by the flaws of their characters, it is the society they live in and to which they simply have adapted to survive. A strong novel which is surely not to be missed.

Emily Houghton – Before I Saw You

Emily Houghton – Before I Saw You

After a fire at her work place seriously injured her, Alice finds herself in St Francis’s Hospital in a very poor state. She does not even want to look in the mirror for fear of what she might see, and she definitely does not want others to see the monster she has become. Thus, the patients in her ward have to live with the voice coming from behind the drawn curtains. At first, she refuses contact but over the time she realises that old Mr Petersen and especially Alfie Mack next to her are likable people who make staying in hospital a lot more acceptable. Alfie is the good soul of their small community, always funny and entertaining, spreading warmth and hope. At night, however, he is haunted by the accident which made him lose his leg and all the negative emotions he pushes back during daylight. Slowly, the two of them bond, yet, without ever seeing each other.

Emily Houghton tells the story of two people who have to go through a very hard time: the lives they had have ceased to exist from one second to the next and now, they find themselves in a kind of void between before and after. Quite naturally, sharing the similar experiences makes them bond easily, on the other hand, how can you open up to another person and make new friends or even more when you haven’t come to grips with your own situation, yet? The author gives her characters the time they need to adjust and to stretch out a hand.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. Even though there is a lot of sadness due to the accidents the characters had to go through and the hardship they have to endure while healing, the plot is full of love and care which makes you believe in the good in mankind and – of course – in love. Beautifully narrated by highlighting the anxieties and thoughts Alice and Alfie go through which again and again keep them from doing what should be done but which is simply a hurdle too high to take at that moment. What I liked most was the fact that Alice and Alfie fell in love other without seeing each other, they can surely say that it is the character that counts and which attracted them.

A heart-warming story providing hope and confidence when life seems to be too hard to endure.

Heidi Perks – Three Perfect Liars

heidi perks three perfect liars
Heidi Perks – Three Perfect Liars

When Laura returns to her job after six month of maternity leave, she expects Mia, who substituted her in this time, to be gone. Yet, the young woman is still there, at Laura’s desk and with Laura’s most valuable customer and: she got a permanent contract. Laura is furious and soon convinced that there is something wrong with that seemingly sympathetic colleague who makes friends with everybody easily. The more Laura digs into it, the more paranoid she gets, neglecting her husband and young son, her mind only circulating around how to dethrone the enemy. Mia actually has something to hide and yes, there was a reason why she rushed to this rural area and wanted explicitly to work in this company. Janie, Laura and Mia’s boss Harry’s wife, on the contrary, is a full time mom and at the moment totally frustrated. It is not just that she has given up a splendid career, something is nagging on her and slowly destroying her marriage. When one evening, the offices burn down, all three of them seem to have had good reasons to destroy the company. But, did they also count on killing somebody inside the building?

Heidi Perks’s mystery is a marvellous story which hooked me immediately and keep me reading on as soon as I had started. Three female protagonists are very different from each other and hard to see through at the beginning. But the more you see them interact with each other, the more suspicious you get and while I was reading, I was constantly shifting sympathies since every piece of information added to the picture and slightly changed it.

At first, I felt compassionate for Laura. Coming back after months at home now struggling with her new role as mother and having a career at the same time. Her husband’s constant criticism – even though completely justified – and having somebody younger and attractive stealing her post while her boss lacked supporting her: I could easily understand why she felt like losing all confidence in herself and increasingly getting obsessed with Mia. I didn’t really like the later at first, mainly due to the fact that she was presented through Laura’s point of view, she seemed like an intruder with evil intentions. Yet, there was also another side which she kept from the office and which told an entirely different story. I didn’t know what to do with Janie, was it just lamenting at a very high level? Having a wonderful family and lots of money, what did she have to complain about? It was herself who suggested giving up her career. She was certainly the character least tangible of the three and her motives of ending her marriage remained quite blurry until the end.

A brilliantly crafted plot with a very female and perfidious fight between the three. There was also something really tragic about the story when the motives were finally revealed which kept me pondering about the fact that how easily you put together an allegedly coherent picture of a person or a situation while you might be totally wrong.

Riley Sager – Lock Every Door

riley-sager-lock-every-door
Riley Sager – Lock Every Door

When Jules comes home early because she has been laid off, she finds her boyfriend with another girl. Without a job and no home anymore, she is close to giving up when she sees an ad for a house sitter. This might solve both her problems for the moment. When she enters the apartment for the first time, the interior holds up to what the outside of this old Upper West Side house promised. The Bartholomew is incredible and Jules more than happy when she is hired for the job which is paid more than generously: one thousand dollars per week. But there are some strict rules to follow. When you’ve got nowhere else to go and no money in your bank account, you agree to almost everything, but Jules has no idea what she has agreed to with moving into the Bartholomew.

Riley Sager’s thriller got me hooked from the very beginning. I like those stories with old houses in which there are strange sounds you cannot identify and that have secrets behind every door and residents who are suspicious in every imaginable and unimaginable way. The setting is just perfectly chosen for a spine-tingling story and the way the author composed the story, with foreshadowings which give you some idea of what might come without telling too much, keeps you alert and thrilled all the time.

I liked the protagonist Jules immediately, she seems to be a clever young woman, with her family background not an easy prey for wrongdoers. You sympathise with her due to her very poor situation and the luck that seems to have come to her life unexpectedly. The inhabitants of the house are intriguingly drawn, quite eccentric but well-fitting to the surrounding.

Yet, what I liked best was that fact that when I was sure to have sorted out everything, I had to learn that I was downright wrong with my assumptions. Really some unexpected turns and connections – masterly done! Nevertheless, it all adds up and makes completely sense, looking at the plot again from the end, you see how you misinterpreted signs and easily were deceived by the author. Brilliantly done and well written, one of those books that you hate to finish.