Emily Koch – If I Die Before I Wake

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Emily Koch – If I Die Before I Wake

When Alex wakes up in hospital, he finds himself locked-in in his body. His mind is absolutely clear, but he cannot communicate with his surroundings; neither can he move his body the least bit, nor can he show the doctors or his family that he is not in a coma. It takes some time for him to figure out what actually happened. Since he cannot ask, he has to rely on what his visitors share with him. First of all, his girlfriend Bea, but also his father and his sister. He obviously was climbing when he fell from the rock. Since is never wore a helmet, the impact left a serious damage to his brain. But slowly he comes to the conclusion that the different pieces of information he gathers while listening do not really fit together. There must be more about it.

Emily Koch surely has chosen a very special point of view for her novel. Giving a voice to a locked-in character is something you do not read that often. Yet, it made the story especially appealing since you as the reader were completely with Alex and had no chance of getting more information than the protagonist. Not all you learnt made sense, at times, you even suspected the girlfriend of having tried to murder him – just like Alex did. Thus, the choice the author has made is simply great and adds a special bit to the story.

It was an attempted murder, this becomes clear quite early in the novel, yet, it takes some time to really understand what was behind it all. The limited access to information really supports the suspense here. At some points I got a bit annoyed, wishing it all to advance a bit more quickly. However, imagining this as a real life event, there is nothing one could do to accelerate it, so even though I was curious to get to the solution, it was a good decision to delay it.

A risky point of view which I find quite innovative. The plot was solved convincingly and the author found a way out of the story that I absolutely liked.

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Joy Ellis – Beware the Past

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Joy Ellis – Beware the Past

It was his most important case, 25 years ago, and now it all seems to be coming back to him. Detective Matt Ballard was still young when a series of murders of three boys hit the remote area of Gibbet Fens. The killing suddenly stopped when their main suspects was killed in an accident, but nevertheless, doubts remained and now the killers seems to have resumed his series. The team is working around the clock and soon they have to realise that this is not just a normal murder case, it is a cat and mouse play with Matt Ballard at the centre. The killer wants his full attention and he want to hurt the detective – therefore everybody close to him is in the highest danger.

Joy Ellis’ thriller is just want I’d suspect from a crime novel: full of suspense, many clues and leads that only lead to dead-ends. Interesting characters with a past and buried secrets. A fast paced story with twists and turns and quite a surprising motive of the predator.

For me, the strongest aspect of the novel was actually the plot and the motivation of the killer. It is hard not to tell too much since it really comes as a surprise, but the way Joy Ellis drafted the novel, the killer’s procedure and the solution of the case was just brilliant. I was kept in the dark about who is behind it all for such a long time – ok, one might have guessed, but actually, the fact that I was totally taken by surprise makes it an outstanding thriller for me.

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?

Graham Swift – Ein Festtag

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Graham Swift – Ein Festtag

Wie alle Hausmädchen hat auch Jane Fairchild am Muttertag des Jahres 1924 frei. Nur hat sie keine Mutter, zu der sie fahren könnte; als Kind ausgesetzt, wuchs sie in einem Heim auf, bevor sie ihre erste Anstellung aus Hausmädchen annahm. Doch an diesem Tag hat sie etwas vor, sie wird sich mit Paul Sheringham treffen, dem Sohn eines befreundeten Ehepaares ihrer Arbeitsgeber, den Nivens. Es wird vermutlich eines der letzten Treffen mit Paul sein, denn in zwei Wochen wird er Emma Hobday heiraten, ein Mädchen, das aus denselben Kreisen stammt und eine angemessene Gattin sein wird. Paul hat sie gebeten zu ihm zu kommen, ganz offiziell auch den Vordereingang zu benutzen. Ihr Treffen wird etwas Besonderes werden, das spürt Jane und ahnt noch nicht, dass sie diesen Tag in ihrem ganzen Leben nicht mehr vergessen wird.

Graham Swift zählt zu den bedeutendsten britischen Gegenwartsautoren, seine Romane erhielten zahlreiche Literaturpreise, unter anderem den Booker Prize, den James Tait Black Memorial Prize und „Ein Festtag“ (Im Original „Mothering Sunday“) wurde mit dem Hawthornden Prize, einem der ältesten britischen Literaturpreise, ausgezeichnet.

Bemerkenswert an der Erzählung fand ich vor allem den Stil, den Swift findet. Der ganze Text erscheint sprachlich geradezu aus der Zeit gefallen und passt ganz hervorragend in das Jahr 1924, in dem die Handlung angesiedelt ist. Dabei gelingt ihm eine stilistisch bemerkenswerte Vermischung zwischen Introspektion der Protagonistin und zeitlichen Brüchen, die immer wieder in eine ferne Zukunft springen und ein Licht auf das werfen, was Jane erwarten wird, wenn dieser Tag vorbei und diese Episode ihres Lebens abgeschlossen ist.

Trotz zahlreicher Wiederholungen und Schleifen, minutiösen Detailbeschreibungen und bei realistischer Betrachtung sehr wenig Handlung bleibt der Roman immer lebendig und wird nie langatmig. Es ist dieser eine entscheidende Moment im Leben von Jane, der sich einbrennt und eine Wendung herbeiführt. Noch ist für sie alles wie gehabt, die Welt draußen ist jedoch schon einen Schritt weitergegangen, was sie noch nicht weiß. Der Leser ahnt schon, was sich zugetragen haben muss, gönnt Jane aber diese kurze Pause, die die Standesunterschiede aufhebt und ihr einen Vorgeschmack auf ihr späteres Leben gibt. Ein Leben, in dem sie viel von sich offenbaren wird, aber nicht diesen Tag im März 1924.

Graham Swift konnte mich mit diesem Roman, eher eine Novelle, vollends überzeugen. Sein Schreibstil erinnert an Ian McEwan, ebenso unaufgeregt kann er intensiv beschreiben, was seine Figur bewegt. Das Hörbuch wird von Iris Berben gelesen, was sehr gut zur reifen rückblickenden Jane passt, die die notwendige Lebenserfahrung und Weitsicht hat zu wissen, was man offenbart und was man besser als Gemeinsinns für sich bewahrt.

Sarah Perry – Die Schlange von Essex

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Sarah Perry – Die Schlange von Essex

Man erinnert sich 1893 im kleinen Dorf Aldwinter in Essex, dass dieses schon einmal von einem unheimlichen Seemonster heimgesucht wurde und nun scheint dieses zurückgekehrt und versetzt die Bewohner in Angst und Schrecken. Weit über die Dorfgrenzen hinaus verbreitet sich die Geschichte und lockt auch Cora Seaborne an. Die Witwe, die sich für Naturwissenschaften und die Erkenntnisse von Darwin begeistert, will die Fossilien erforschen und einen Blick auf das Seemonster werfen. Gemeinsame Freunde machen sie mit dem örtlichen Pfarrer William Ransome und dessen Familie bekannt. Dieser ist besorgt über den Aberglauben seiner Gemeinde, die mehr und mehr vom guten Glauben abzufallen scheint. Die Suche nach der Lösung des Mysteriums bringen William und Cora näher, eine Liebe, die nicht sein kann, weil sie nicht sein darf.

Sarah Perrys Roman war einer der großen britischen Erfolge 2016 und nominiert für zahlreiche namhafte Literaturpreise. Der Grund mag darin liegen, dass es der Autorin gelingt, eine längst vergangene Zeit zu Ende des 19. Jahrhundert einzufangen und einen Schreibstil zu finden, der an die bekannten Autoren der damaligen Zeit erinnert.

Um die Geschichte der ominösen Schlange herum reißt sie eine Vielzahl an Themen an: von der Rolle der Frau, über Gesellschaft- und sozialkritische Themen wie die Wohnsituation der Arbeiter in London bis hin zum Streit zwischen Naturwissenschaften und Religion um die Vorherrschaft. Das ganze vor dem Hintergrund einer recht modernen und resoluten Protagonistin, die ihren Weg geht und dafür auch Rückschläge und Niederlagen in Kauf nimmt.

Trotz der gewaltigen Bilder, die Sarah Perry mit ihrer poetischen Sprache erweckt, konnte mich der Roman nur zum Teil überzeugen. Die Liebesgeschichte zwischen Cora und William nahm mir zu viel Raum ein, der für die wirklich relevanten Themen hätte verwendet werden könne. Das Mysterium um die Schlange wird zwar glaubwürdig und überzeugend gelöst, hätte aber gerade wegen der düsteren Nebelumgebung, die Perry immer wieder schafft und die ihre Kunst, eine besondere Atmosphäre zu erzeugen, deutlich belegt, spannender werden können. So bleibt eine nette Geschichte, die leider ihr inhaltliches Potenzial nicht ausschöpft.

Barbara Vine – The Birthday Present

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Barbara Vine – The Birthday Present

Ivor Tesham ist 1990 ein aufstrebender Abgeordneter der Tories. Margaret Thatcher regiert das Land und dem attraktiven jungen Politiker steht eine glänzende Karriere bevor. Das einzige, was er nicht hat, ist die glückliche Familie. Dafür aber eine Affäre mit einer verheirateten Frau, die seine Leidenschaft für Rollenspiele beim Sex teilt. Zu ihrem Geburtstag will er ihr eine besondere Freude machen und eine Entführung inszenieren – doch dabei läuft etwas schief und Hebe sowie ein weiterer Mann sterben, ein dritter wird schwer verletzt. Ivor hat Angst um seine Karriere und meldet sich daher nicht bei der Polizei. Doch es gibt Menschen, die von der Affäre wissen und so macht sich der kaltblütige Politiker erpressbar.

Die Geschichte wird rückblickend aus Sicht von Ivors Schwager erzählt, weshalb Ivor seine Geschichte nicht selbst erzählen kann, bleibt zunächst unklar. Der Schwager ist ein braver Familienvater und spart nicht mit der Analyse der Diskrepanz zwischen Ivors tatsächlichem Verhalten und dem öffentlichen Bild des konservativen Politikers mit reiner Weste. Er ist immer wieder schockiert, wie abgebrüht Ivor Entscheidungen vor dem Hintergrund seiner Karriere trifft und dabei die Menschen völlig aus den Augen verliert.

Neben Ivor spielt Hebes Freundin Jane, die ihr regelmäßig Schützenhilfe beim Betrug leisten musste, eine wesentliche Rolle. Der Abstieg der jungen und intelligenten Frau ist grausam mit anzusehen. Einerseits versucht sie ihre Cleverness zu nutzen, dann scheitert sie wiederum an ihrer Menschenkenntnis und der Gutgläubigkeit, die bisweilen regelrecht naiv wirkt. Sie ist für mich – neben zahlreichen anderen – das Hauptopfer der Geschehnisse zu denen sie nichts beigetragen hat, die aber ihr Leben zerstörten.

Machtbesessenheit, Gier und Egoismus sind die Triebfedern des Romans, der gnadenlos mit seinen Figuren umgeht und sie für ihre Fehltritte zahlen lässt.

Claire Fuller – Swimming Lessons

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Claire Fuller – Swimming Lessons

Flora is called to her hometown by her sister Nan when their father Gil had an accident after presumably having seen Ingrid – his wife who went missing, maybe drowned, twelve years ago. The girls try to reconstruct what happened on that day, Flora was only ten and Nan, five years older, had to take over the responsibility since Gil Coleman, the renowned writer, was simply not capable of family life and suffered from his wife’s lost. Slowly Flora has to adapt the conception of her family to an alternative reality which the small girl from then could not fully grasp. The relationship between father and mother was not full of love as the mother’s letters to her husband, written shortly before she disappeared, reveal and the father’s most successful novel might also contain a key to still unanswered questions.

Claire Fuller lets us immerse in a family story told from different points in time. First, we learn what Flora and Nan undergo in the present and how they explain the events from the past. Then, the mother’s letters give insight into an absent character’s point of view who has a completely different focus. On the one hand, the girls view on the parent’s relationship, on the other hand, the young student who loves her lecturer who is a lot older and seduces her and for whom she actually gives up the life she dreamt of. Only when put together do those two perspectives form a complete and complex picture of a family structure and the psychological impact of family life and loss of a parent.

Apart from the spotlight on the multifaceted relationships affected and strongly influenced by the experiences the characters undergo, the author has a second theme to offer: the relevance of literature for life. Apparently, the writer Gil Coleman used events from their real life for his work of art which did not remain without consequences. Apart from that, his life is centred around books and here, he has an extraordinary and interesting leisure activity: Gil is collecting novels with margin notes from the readers. At one point in the novel, his conception is explained:


Fiction is about readers. Without readers there is no point in books, and therefore they are as important as the author, perhaps more important. (pos. 1287 in the e-book).

I like this idea a lot and think it is an interesting approach not only to concentrate on the writer’s process in producing the novel, but also to explore what happens in a reader in the process of reading. Moreover, Ingrid’s letters are hidden in novels. I would have liked to know more of these books since I believe that the specific one chosen for a particular letter might have another sub-message which might be lost on me.

All in all, a wonderful piece of art which I enjoyed a lot.

Diane Jeffrey – Those Who Lie

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Diane Jeffrey – Those Who Lie

When Emily Klein wakes up in hospital, her life is a mess. Her husband died in their car accident. She cannot recollect what happened before they hit the tree, only that they were having a severe fight. Back home, she tries to sort her life, but strange things happen and she more and more questions not only her memory but also her senses. It is not the first time in her life that dubitable things happen and that her state of mind is in a poor condition: abused as a child, she killed her father – at least that’s what she thinks she did. Maybe also this is only a false memory. Is her brain playing tricks on her or is it a person who wants to seriously do her harm?

I really enjoyed reading Diane Jeffrey’s novel because it could convince me on different levels. First of all, from a psychological point of view, we have the woman who was abused by her father as a child, did not have any adult at that time that she could confide in and had to endure the molestation over years without knowing what to do about it. This must leave traces and scars. Trusting someone is not easy, especially after a year in an institution where she also did not encounter any affection. The only bond she ever really established was with her sister who became her reference point in all respects and whom she trusted without any doubt.  On the other hand, the novel is full of suspense. We as the reader only know what Emily knows thus, quite naturally, there are things which escape us and we do not have any access to. Although we quite soon learn what happened in her past, the present remains a mystery. Additionally, we slowly start doubting the sympathetic protagonist. She might be suffering from some kind of brain damage or just a lack of memory, some blanks or misconceptions. Can we trust her? We would like to, but at some point, you just cannot be sure how reliable she is. This make reading the novel not tremendously thrilling, but definitely gripping and exciting.

A thriller with a realistic and compelling protagonist and a well-constructed plot that does not slow down at any moment. I particularly appreciated the psychological factors incorporated which added to the novel’s depth.