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Search tags: unreliable-narrator
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review 2020-04-18 21:33
Luxurious package takes some unpacking
The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories - Angela Carter

Do I dare call this full of symbolism, and therefore feel the need to scratch under the surface of these tales? Then again, is there any fairy tale worth it's salt that is not so.

Lets start saying that the way this is written is incredibly sensual. I was surprised because I was sure the first tale (The Bloddy Chamber), would turn up into a hardcore purple prose BDSM. It does not become explicit, but the erotic charge and the tug of war between desire for freedom and sexual or base hungers, innocence and a curiousity for corruption, is heavy and all encompassing on that one and several others in this collection (The Tiger's Bride, The Erl-king).

Puss in Boots was hilarious in all it's terribleness. Not one character in it can be called good, our narrator least of all, and yet. Lots of laughing OMG, no!

 

The Snow Child was... How do you pack it that fast? It takes infinitely more to unpack.

All of them are incredibly evocative. Also disturbing. Oh, and they screw with your mind with the POVs and tenses too.

 

I'm a still quite discombobulated by much of this, and I'm pretty certain I don't get even most  of what this is conveying, but frankly, at some point I started researching some fairy-tale stuff for background, and found out there are whole freaking books essaying on the meanings of this collection, so I reckon I'm good enough just keeping it floating on the back-burners of my mind.

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review 2019-06-01 14:29
An intriguing read, but not an accurate depiction of mental healthcare.
The Silent Patient - Alex Michaelides

Thanks to NetGalley and to Orion for providing me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

Being a doctor (although I’d always had the same interest, even before studying Medicine), I’m always intrigued by books with the word “patient” (or doctor, hospital, or similar healthcare-related terms) in the title. Being a psychiatrist and having worked in forensic psychiatry in the UK, the description of this book seemed right up my alley. (And yes, in case you’re curious, I have treated patients who presented as temporarily mute, more than once, although not in circumstances quite as shocking as those in the book. Even one of the characters in one of my own thrillers is totally unresponsive after she is accused of a crime, but that’s another story). So I requested this book and it went into my very long list of books to read and review. Then, I started seeing great reviews, recommendations, etc., and grew curious, to the point where it jumped up to the top of my list.

Now, it’s quite difficult to review this book without revealing any spoilers, and this is a book where the twists in the plot are quite important, so I won’t be able to say much, as I’m sure many people will enjoy it and I don’t want to ruin it for them.

What can I tell you? What did I think? Well, I know this is a work of fiction, rather than a treatise in psychiatry or psychotherapy. (Theo Farber, one of the main characters, is a psychotherapist, a psychologist by training, not a medical doctor and, let’s say, he is not too enamoured with psychiatrists, anyway). But still, having work experience in high secure units in the UK, and also in low and medium secure units, both NHS and private, I couldn’t help but find so many things wrong with the characterisation of the professionals involved in the care of the other main character, Alice Berenson —the silent patient of the title— and also with the procedures followed and the way the unit is run, that it shattered my suspension of disbelief and made the rest of the book difficult to judge in its own right, for me. Despite the great reviews the book has had, I’ve noticed some other people have also had issues with the characterisation of the therapist and with other details of the novel, so if you are somebody who likes mysteries and thrillers to be realistic and tight when it comes to details, I’d say you should give it a miss.

The actual mystery side of the story… Well, as I said there are twists, more than one, red herrings, and some people have described it as original. Others, not so much. How well the twists work depends on how much you engage not only with the story, but also with the main characters. The story is narrated from two points-of-view, both in the first person, one the therapist’s, and one the patient’s, although, as must be evident from the title, the patient mostly does not talk, and what we get are entries from her diary, the diary she wrote before the events that landed her in the psychiatric unit. I like unreliable narrators, and they can work very well for mysteries, indeed. Here we have two. If Alice might be seen as an unreliable narrator due to her mental state, Theo seems to be very good at not applying his therapeutic insights (such as they are, but I’ve already said my piece on that and won’t insist) to himself and his own situation. But, I’m sure you won’t be surprised if I tell you that things are not quite as straightforward as they seem, even if you suspect they are far from straightforward.

My inkling is that people who don’t read tonnes of thrillers or mysteries are likely to enjoy this book more than people who mostly read thrillers and are used to smelling a rat from afar. Because of the issues I had with the novel, I included the editorial reviews, so you can get a sense of what the official line is on it. When I read the negative reviews I saw that some readers felt cheated by the twist (and yes, I understand that point of view, although,  as I said, I had other issues with the book); there were complaints about not liking any of the characters (other than the two main characters, none of the rest are drawn in much detail, I agree); some readers found the descriptions of therapies and the use of psychotherapeutic terms over the top (too much telling and not enough showing, and some complained they slowed the action); some reviewers objected to the use of swear-words (as this was mostly by one of the patients, from personal experience I’d say that bit is not unrealistic); and also some comments about a somewhat prejudiced depiction of a couple of characters (the Greek professor running the clinic comes out of it much better than the Turkish patient, it’s true). I mention those as a warning for people who are thinking about reading it and the concerns might resonate with them.

After reading the whole book, and with the caveats I’ve mentioned, personally, I was intrigued by the reference to a play by Euripides I hadn’t heard about, Alcestis, and I want to explore it further. I also enjoyed the references to Alice’s paintings and her creative process.

If you aren’t familiar with psychiatric care (particularly forensic psychiatric care in the UK), don’t regularly read tonnes of mysteries, and prefer books with enticing plots rather than those focused on a strong and psychologically consistent depiction of, you are likely to enjoy this book. Otherwise, my recommendation would be to check a sample of the book and see if it hooks you and you feel compelled to keep reading.

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review 2019-04-29 00:59
Fun with sociopaths
Lady Susan - Jane Austen

It's short, it's unpolished, and the MC is an absolutely conniving bitch. And, oh, my god, it was magnificent.

 

Susan is horrid and also compelling. A fun (yet sadly not that far from reality) caricature of your garden variety sociopathic creature.

 

From the first letter I was laughing at the convolutions and machinations, and all the suspected make-up to what could be inferred of recent past happenings.

 

Facts are such horrid things!

 

And facts do come out, because it is a happy little story all things said. Oddly cute romp.

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review 2019-01-21 17:04
Sometimes I Lie by Alice Feeney
Sometimes I Lie - Alice Feeney

Content warning: this book contains multiple instances of sexual assault, a couple of which are on-page.

This story is told in chapters set in three different time periods: Amber's present, Amber's recent past, and childhood diary entries. Amber wakes up on December 26th to discover that she is in a coma, unable to move or speak but occasionally able to hear what's going on around her. She has no memory of what happened but is convinced her husband had something to do with it. For whatever reason, he no longer loves her, although he seems to be doing a good job of pretending to be a devoted husband whenever he visits her at the hospital.

Just a few days prior, Amber was limping along in her job as an assistant at a radio show. She's been given an ultimatum: either figure out how to get the voice of the show, Madeline, to like her, or she'll no longer have a job come January 1st. Amber decides to take a different route. Through carefully planted social media posts, anonymous notes, and a few other efforts, she'll convince Madeline that she's about to be let go instead. While Amber is doing all of this, her personal life is in shambles. Her husband is behaving secretively and may be having an affair with Claire, her more beloved younger sister who lives right next door. This makes meeting up with Edward, an ex-boyfriend, more appealing than it maybe should be.

Meanwhile, diary entries written 25 years ago unravel the childhood secrets that continue to rule Amber's life.

A few weeks ago, my local book club voted on their next read. This is the book I voted for, although it isn't the book that was ultimately chosen. I decided I wanted to read it anyway. I basically gobbled it up, which is saying something considering how slowly I've been reading lately.

The more I read, the more horrible many of the characters seemed. Amber was consumed by jealousy. Later, I added "selfish" and "astonishingly lacking in empathy" to the list, although I did eventually come to feel sorry for her, at least until the very end. Claire, Amber's sister, was potentially a snake, depending on how much of what was going on was in Amber's head and how much was real. Paul, Amber's husband, seemed to only be interested in her in the most shallow of ways, although, again, everything depended on how much was real and how much was just in Amber's head. She wore different masks depending on who she was speaking to, and I found it difficult to believe that Paul had ever really loved her, since he likely didn't even really know her, not the real her.

From the very beginning, readers knew to expect that Amber would be an unreliable narrator. As she said at the start: "Sometimes I lie." I kept my eyes open for clues and was able to catch a few. I figured out, for example, how one detail mentioned in the diary could be true even as the existence of another character indicated that it had to be false. However, I only guessed part of what was going on. I've since realized that there was a great big clue that I'd missed. Could I have figured out what was going on sooner? Maybe, but I doubt it.

Although I disliked most of the characters, I couldn't stop reading because I wanted to find out how all the pieces fit together. I didn't get anxious about the characters' fates because, well, I didn't like them very much. One of the big twists near the end forced me to grapple with shifting perceptions of them, but then the ending happened.

While I agree that something needed to be done - a character shouldn't be able to win happiness that way - the very last sentence annoyed me. It seemed like the sort of thing you'd find in a slasher movie, a bit too much for this sort of book. It would have been more effective and believable to show that the character's own paranoia, doubts, and fears would one day eat them up and keep them from ever enjoying their happy new life.

I was originally going to say that one particular character's actions near the end didn't make much sense considering they'd been a follower most of their life, but I realized their actions did make sense...if, as it turned out, they were just as warped as another one of the characters, only in a different way. There's one line that I think was supposed to indicate that that was indeed the case.

All in all, this was a riveting read, even though it stumbled a bit in the end.

 

(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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review 2018-10-17 18:55
Guess who has a new favourite author?
Nights at the Circus - Angela Carter

This was bloody amazing!

 

The writing was gorgeous, the braided in stories colorful and as bizarre as you could expect, and even when at their most tragic, always running this underground hilarity out of sheer cynicism and pragmatic pizazz. All seasoned with a good dose of feminism and magical realism.

 

I laughed a lot, but it actually ran me through the whole gamut of emotions and I did not want it to end. Loved it, will read more by the author, and will buy whatever of hers I can find around here.

 

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