Claire Fuller – Unsettled Ground

Claire Fuller – Unsettled Ground

When Dot dies from a stroke at the age of 70, she leaves her twins Jeanie and Julius behind. Even though both of them are well in their adulthood, they still behave like children and therefore are totally overstrained by finding their mother dead on the kitchen floor. The three of them have lead a decent life at the small cottage since their father and husband Frank was killed in an accident, they have never needed much and could rely on their garden and the small amount of money Julius could make in providing a helping hand with all sorts of craftsman jobs. Yet, Jeanie and Julius do not have much time to grieve before all sorts of people turn up from the village claiming money their mother allegedly had borrowed. They can hardly believe it; this does not fit to the image they had of Dot. But this is just the beginning, without the strong and determined woman in the house anymore, the twins become an easy prey and soon have to face an unexpected problem: they are being evicted from what has been their home for decades.

A couple of years ago, I already enjoyed Claire Fuller’s novel “Swimming Lessons” which presented complex characters and a challenging family structure. In “Unsettled Ground”, too, the reader is confronted with a couple of highly interesting characters and an all but usual family construct which slowly unfolds its real tragedy in the course of the novel. Neither Jeanie nor Julius or any other character is easy to sympathise with, the world they have created for themselves is undoubtedly quite unique and takes some time to understand.

The novel has been longlisted for the 2021 Women’s Prize for Fiction which is nevertheless easy to understand. It presents two characters at the critical point in their life when all they have known is threatened, when everything is about to fall apart and when all they have taken for granted and believed to be true has to be reassessed. Jeanie and Julius have a strong bond which nevertheless does not hinder them from coping with the threats they face totally differently.  Ultimately, it is the struggle of survival in a hostile world, the attempt to build a life on the broken pieces of the truths they have held to be true but turned out to be all but that.

Admittedly, reading “Unsettled Ground” makes you feel depressed more than once, the story is hard to endure at times. Yet, this surely can be attributed to the author’s skill of transmitting atmosphere and mood in a brilliant way. It’s one of those novels one does not really want to dig deeper in while at the same time one can hardly put down once started.

Jo Baker – The Body Lies

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Jo Baker – The Body Lies

After having been assaulted on her way home a couple of years before, a young writer never feels secure in her London house anymore. When she is offered a job by a remote university, this could not only solve the small family’s financial problems but also bring her away from the bad memories. She is supposed to take over a creative writing course and soon figures out that she is completely left alone since her colleague who was supposed to mentor her is on a leave. The trimester starts slowly but she gets along well with her students even though they seem to be quite unique. When they read out their first writing attempts, the situation becomes complicated since one of them, Nicholas Baker, insists on only telling the truth and not inventing anything which is not taken very well by his fellow students. As the time advances, the professor feels more and more uncomfortable around him and his texts as they become increasingly more personal and Nicholas develops into a real stalker who is ready to turn his bizarre fantasies into reality making her the protagonist of his weird story.

“The Body Lies” is completely different form Jo Baker’s novel “Longbourn” which I read and enjoyed a couple of years ago. Reading it was not easy at times since, due to her vivid style of writing, you can imagine the event narrated without any problem and some of the violence really gets under the skin. This is really a psychological thriller as you follow the invasion of the protagonist’s private life and you are not sure if there could actually be a happy ending.

What I liked most about the novel was that, apart from being suspenseful and entertaining as a psychological thriller, it also conveys an authentic picture of reality and an important message. The unnamed professor is exposed to violence and does not really have a chance to fight the men who assault her. Defending herself would have led to more injuries in the first case and in the second, she feels ashamed for what happened to her which, unfortunately, is quite common. But not only the physical violence hurts her, it is first and foremost the psychological threat that slowly hurts her and the fact that she has nobody to believe her version of the story makes it even worse. Sadly, I have no doubt that the story told could happen anywhere everyday.

A great read even though it is at times hard to support.

Chris Pavone – The Paris Diversion

chris-pavone-the-paris-diversion
Chris Pavone – The Paris Diversion

They have been living in Paris for some time now and it took Kate more than one year to finally accept that she would never be like all the other stay-at-home mothers who only cared for the children and spent their days chatting in cafés. So, she decided to return to her job. She is supposed not to ask too many questions, just to do what is necessary when she gets a new mission. Yet, that morning, things are somehow strange in the city, police is everywhere and there is a threat perceptible, but where does it come from? Another series of attacks on the French capital? Kate is good at her jobs and that’s the reason why she soon figures out that the whole scenario is aimed at somebody completely different and that this could also mean that her family and especially her husband is the primary target.

“The Paris Diversion” is the second instalment of the Kate Moore series and continues “The Expats”. It is not absolutely necessary to have read the first novel, yet, the stories are closely interwoven and directly linked. The story moves at a high pace, the whole plot takes place in only a couple of hours, it is only slowed down by Kate’s memories of her time in Luxembourg and a love story that took place some years before. The first of the two makes sense for readers who are not familiar with the first book of the series, the second, however, could easily have been dropped for my liking since it does not contribute anyhow to the actual plot.

It takes some time to see through the whole story. There are many things going on at the same time in different places and how they connect does only unfold slowly. It is cleverly orchestrated and finally, all pieces fall into place, yet, the whole set-up is not really authentic. It is quite an interesting scenario playing with all the fears of modern world: the quick changes at the stock markets, terrorist attacks on a Western metropolis, kidnapping of CEOs, secret services operating in foreign countries – you name it. Chris Pavone masterfully combined all those ingredients into one story, but, as one might assume, it was a bit too much. Nevertheless, I liked the novel due to the high pace and the fantastic protagonist: a strong woman who just does what has to be done while at the same time being completely down to earth and making wrong decisions in her private life.

Dirk Kurbjuweit – Fear

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Dirk Kurbjuweit – Fear

Randolph Tiefenthaler is a successful Berlin based architect. With his wife Rebecca and their two kids, they just moved into the stylish old houses of the German capital where they have find the seemingly perfect home. Yet, it doesn’t take too long until the neighbour from the basement, Dieter Tiberius, becomes more and more awkward and strange. He writes love letters to Rebecca, which is just annoying, but then he accuses her of child abuse and repeatedly calls the police to check on them. Randolph gets a lawyer, he contacts the youth welfare service, but there is nothing he can do to protect his family from the crazy man in the basement. The fear that he might attack his wife or hurt the children grows and with it the marriage become increasingly fragile. There nerves are on the edge until the day they cannot support it anymore and they need to help themselves to protect the family.

Dirk Kurbjuweit plays with the family idyll which is threatened in the core: the home. The loving father who has built the perfect life for himself and his wife, becomes suddenly incapable of action. He cannot protect his beloved, there is a danger close at hand that he cannot control and sees himself exposed defencelessly. The pressure which is on Randolph and Rebecca is palpable and you as a reader also feel the growing impression of being helpless, powerless and most of all vulnerable.

Even though from the start it is clear what the outcome of all will be, the thriller is full of suspense and the development of the plot gives you the creeps. Kurbjuweit has a very lively style of writing and making Randolph the narrator underlines the feeling of being a part of the story and makes it easy to sympathise with him and to commiserate with him.