Anna-Lou Weatherley – The Stranger’s Wife

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Anna-Lou Weatherley – The Stranger’s Wife

You should never underestimate a woman’s revenge. When her nanny and friend vanishes, Beth decides that – since it all will finally come out anyhow – she can also make the first step herself: she tells her husband Evan that she’s going to leave him for her affair Nick. Evan seems to accept this calmly, they have lived next to each other but hardly with each other for years now, calling this a marriage was embellishing the situation. But he warns his wife that she will be sorry for this step. At that moment, Beth doesn’t have a clue what he means, how powerful her husband actually is and first of all, WHO she has been married to all these years. With her decision to leave him, she has triggered a ball that will send her directly into hell. But Beth is a fighter, much more a fighter than Evan could ever imagine.

Anna-Lou Weatherley’s novel really deserves the title “page-turner”. From the first chapter when the nanny goes missing to the very end: it is a rollercoaster ride of emotional ups and downs that fascinatingly and almost addictively keeps you reading on. The author has created enemies who fight on a very high level – a wonderful read that I enjoyed throughout.

“The Stranger’s Wife” is a psychological thriller combined with some serious issues that make you ponder quite some time after having finished reading it. I totally adored the idea of a woman fighting back, not accepting fate and a bullying husband who knows all the important people and thinks that life runs according to his personal laws. Having his evil character slowly unfold was exciting and frightening at the same time since you always wonder how well you actually know the people around you and how much and what they might hide. Yet, the story also showed that marital abuse and physical as well as psychological violence happens in all social classes, the rich can be affected in the same way as the poor, money does not make a difference when it comes to aggressions.

A marvellous plot with interesting and multifaceted characters, thus I can easily pardon the fact that it needed a kind of coincidence to make everything fall into place. The novel literally absorbed me and I hardly could put it down.

Louise O’Neill – Almost Love

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Louise O’Neill – Almost Love

Things are not going too well between Sarah and her partner. Is it just because her job as a teacher exhausts and frustrates her? She is an artist, but has never been good enough to really succeed with her paintings, not like her mother-in-law to be or her best friend. When she flees their home one afternoon, she by coincidence meets Matthew and all comes up again. The man she loved like never before, the man she would have given up everything for – the man she has given up everything for and destroyed so much. But he is still Matthew and there is something in her that makes the old feeling, she thought she had overcome, show up again.

After reading the blurb, I expected a story with an unhealthy love addiction and intense feelings on the part of the female protagonist. I was quite sure to feel compassion for her obsessive love and what it makes with her, yet, I mainly hated Sarah, even more than Matthew, which made it a bit difficult to really enjoy the novel.

So, why didn’t I feel pity for her? First of all, she is incredibly arrogant. When still young, her best friend from university gets the big chance of an exhibition, but instead of being happy for him, she envies him and is convinced that it should have been her. Second, her father obviously is quite lonely in their remote village and he always tries not to put her under pressure and to tolerate her awful behaviour, but she treats him like an old imbecile. Yes, he might not have been the perfect dad when her mother died – yet, he also lost his beloved wife and needed time for himself and his grief. Her school friends are just places she can dump her personal dramas, she doesn’t care about their problems and feelings and even doesn’t realise when she spoils her former best friend’s wedding. The current relationship is marked by her evil behaviour towards her boyfriend. No, he cannot do anything right, she only snaps at him and looks down on him. All of this is not necessarily linked to her obsessive love, not, she is just a very mean person.

When it comes to her flashbacks and memories of the time with Matthew, well, it is the classic constellation: a successful man in the middle of his life meets the naive girl who falls for him and somehow she succumbs to the illusion that he might also fall in love with her. Her whole behaviour – bombarding him with text messages, dropping everything when he calls, accepting all his wishes in their shabby hotel room, being subservient in any imaginable way – well, that’s something that might happen, but over months without understanding what is going on? That she is never at his side in public, but hidden in a hotel room where he doesn’t even have the time for a proper conversation with her? At least, she can serve as a cautionary tale.

I am not sure if I find Sarah’s character authentic and thus could really believe the story. Nevertheless, it captivated me somehow and I almost read it in just one sitting which definitely speaks for Louise O’Neill.

Adrienne Celt – Invitation to a Bonfire

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Adrienne Celt – Invitation to a Bonfire

The revolution and following turmoil made an orphan of Zoya Andropova. Therefore, she like so many other kids comes to the USA as an orphan and is welcomed in a New Jersey boarding school. She never belongs even though she quickly acquires the language and gets good marks. After her schooling, she can stay on the premises and work in the newly built greenhouse where she fully immerses in her work with the plants. Neither does she have friends, nor a lover. It is just her work and the love for literature that keep her going. There is one author she has worshipped for years, Leo Orlov, another Russian émigré whose works she devours. When Leo comes to teach at the boarding school, Zoya seems close to happiness, but even though Leo returns her love, there is one person in the way of their luck: Vera, his wife.

Adrienne Celt’s second novel “Invitation to a Bonfire” is set in a complicated time and therefore offers several layers of narration. The book can be read against the background of Russian-American confrontation and distrust. It is also a coming-of-age novel of a girl who struggles in her new surroundings. The story provides a good example of group dynamics, of exclusion and bullying, of rich vs. poor. It clearly also broaches the issue of being forced to leave your country, forced to leave behind everything from your family, to your belongings and even your language. And, after all, it is a story about love and being loved and about what people are willing to do for the one they have fallen for.

With such an abundance of topics, it is hard to find a beginning. Let’s start with the protagonist. It really liked Zoya, she is a decent and modest character, she humbly accepts her status in the new school and avoids attracting attention. Even though the other girls play tricks on her, she remains loyal and keeps quiet. She can endure a lot and does not expect life to be fair. After what happened to her family, she knows that justice is not something you can rely on in this world. This is a truth she has accepted and thus, she can follow her ideals.

When she falls under the spell of Leo, you want to shout at her to run, far far away from this man and his wife. You can see that nothing good can come from this relationship – but: what else could she do than immediately fall in love? He is the first to see her, to show her affection and to love her. Her free will is gone and the is easy to manipulate.

The story is not fast paced, actually the love story comes at quite a late point in the novel considering its relevance. What made the narration really lively was the fact that Leo’s letters to his wife and other documents were integrated which allowed you a glimpse at a later point and thus added to the underlying suspense. The author has cleverly constructed the novel and her writing is adorably poetic and multi-layered, is starts with the first sentences which immediately drag you into the novel and don’t let you out before the finishing dot:

“Let me begin by saying I did not think it would end this way. No—let me begin by saying I will burn this diary shortly.”