Tuesday, 23 July 2013

The book that divided our book group: Close my Eyes by Sophie McKenzie

Sophie McKenzie's Close my Eyes: Did you love it or loathe it?
It was book group at my place this morning. On the menu: coffee, blueberry muffins and Sophie McKenzie's Close my Eyes. It's the story of a novelist who is struggling to cope with life after her baby was stillborn eight years ago and then hears out of the blue that her child didn't die, but was stolen. It's a gripping tale with plenty of action (but happily not much gore) and the plot keeps you guessing until the very last page. Reading a female-centric thriller is refreshing and the book's ending is truly chilling. I actually thought it was the best part of the book and would have started reading the sequel straight away if there was one. 

Most of the women in our group loved it. One of us just couldn't get into it and had given up - but she went away from the group thinking she would try again. 

What I liked less, and this is a common criticism of thrillers of course, is that I found the characters in the book two-dimensional and couldn't engage with any of them. I kept reading because I really wanted to know how the story panned out but, to be honest, I didn't really care about any of the people in the story - even the heroine. That surprised me because, as a writer and mother myself, I fully expected to empathise with her.

Having said that, if you like a good psychological thriller, I'd recommend this book. It's original, gripping while you're reading it and haunts you afterwards. Read it and see for yourself. I'd love to hear what you think...

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Walking on the (literary) dark side

A. M. Homes: is the truth darker than her fiction?

A. M. Homes prize-winning novel May We Be Forgiven is ‘breathtakingly dark’ according to Mark Brown, art correspondent for the The Guardian. I haven’t read it yet but, according to Brown, May We Be Forgiven: ‘has a devastating car crash, adultery and a murder within the space of the first 14 pages.’ Does that sound like too much? I, for one, don’t think so.

I’ve never been a fan of horror movies or thrillers. I don’t like to see blood spill or heads roll; I get frustrated with whodunnits because I’m more interested in the whydunnit. Yet I’m tempted to the dark side when reading – and writing – because books help us explore and interpret that darkness. Many great novels, Emma Donoghue’s Room or Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk about Kevin, for example, don’t just have a dark side, but were in fact inspired by heinous human deeds. We all know life can be cruel, so why wouldn’t we expect or want our literature to reflect that? These books have the potential to shine a light into the darkness and help us understand the incomprehensible. The best novels give us both light and shade, the light all the more lovely in contrast to the gloom.

My own novel Burned has been described as dark. To start with I was surprised, I thought I’d written a book celebrating the transforming power of parental love. Now, on reflection, I’m pleased to hear that adjective applied to my writing. Not so long ago I was browsing The Reading Chronicle online and read that someone had committed the very crime that lies at the heart of my book. So to anyone who says they aren’t comfortable with dark novels, I’d simply say: ‘don’t read them.’ But don’t kid yourself: the truth, if I may rephrase an old saying, is darker than fiction.