Before I start my review for SJ Watson’s follow up to Before I Go To Sleep, I want to emphasise how skilled a writer I think he is. Before I Go To Sleep was poorly adapted into film but the novel was one of the best I had read in 2015. It was suspenseful, tense and the definition of a page-turner.
Flick forward one year and I have just completed his second novel; Second Life. Rather than the mysterious atmosphere created in his debut, Watson seemed to get caught up in minor details that felt heavy and irrelevant. I felt as though I was wading through a secondary plot to find clues to the main story, which seemed to have been forgotten. I was also frustrated by the protagonist, who seemingly fell into an affair without any sort of consideration for the consequences – hey maybe I’m too much of a goody two shoes!
Second Life had an interesting subplot, though I suspect it was supposed to be the main attraction. The element of murder mystery was what kept me hooked rather than the love affair on the surface. It would have been interesting if the other characters had been more developed as I felt disconnected to her family and her friends and as a result felt little remorse to the mistakes they made.
It wasn’t a chore to read this book, but I wouldn’t recommend it to a friend. It will be a book I forget, unlike Before I Go To Sleep, which ironically is principally based around the loss of memories. Second Life won’t get a second chance from me.
Second Life: SJ Watson
As a young child, I was captivated by fairy tales, especially anything that Disney was involved with. I loved the coming together of two people who shared their happy ever after. As a teenager, romantic comedies dominated my bookshelves, as I continued to be swept away with these perfect scenarios.
Jump ten years forward and I’ve now read a book that questions everything “baby me” believed. Behind Closed Doors explores the concept of imprisonment and domestic abuse, which are obviously hot topics at this time.
Grace falls in love in the most perfect fashion with the flawless Jack. Little does she know that she’s married a monster who keeps her locked behind closed doors. This book describes her seemingly endless ordeal to try and escape, and how she is made to look deranged each time she succeeds. This keeps the reader engaged as we too try to escape from her jailer. It also explores the way the public can often dismiss abusive relationships and to not be afraid to open the door to these conversations.
This is a perfect holiday read that, with some dedication, could easily be read in a day. The story is compelling and the structure simple. It has also highlighted that it’s not always a happy ever after.
Behind Closed Doors: B A Paris
I am particularly fond of this genre of literature at the moment. It was during my A Level English Literature study of Brighton Rock that I found myself drawn to the mystery and intrigue that comes from crime thrillers. And as the winner of the Crime Thriller Awards, I had high hopes for this debut.
Firstly, this is incredibly well conceived and developed as a story. The reader follows a number of trails as the murder is slowly solved. Our usual detective is split in three and comes in the form of a former corrupt policeman, the now highly ranked man who jailed him, and the ambitious female Sherlock enthusiast. Although this provides a unique method of piecing together the conclusion, I found the many perspectives at times a little confusing. I like to believe I am good with names, though I found myself trying to recall a number of individuals as name after name was introduced. Maybe I read The Axeman too slowly and its design is for quick reading.
The conclusion though was exciting as it stormed towards the finale. The pace increased and the tension reached a crescendo. I was willing the detectives to uncover the mystery as they risked it all to bring justice to New Orleans. Unlike many crime novels, the big reveal really was left until the final moments, which was a great way to leave the reader questioning.
I would be wary to recommend this book to a slow reader, or someone who lacks the determination to follow it through, however I did find this an enthralling story. Like the jazz the Axeman is named after, the story is non-syncopated and unpredictable, which somehow creates a wonderful euphony.
The Axeman’s Jazz: Ray Celestin
To give a sense of how I felt reading the climatic Bird Box, I want you to close your eyes and listen. What are those sounds that you can hear? Do you feel yourself listening for the unknown?
Bird Box is a classic cat and mouse tale, where humans are prey to a mysterious force that if seen turns a person insane. The protagonist, unable to open her eyes, too afraid to glimpse the beast, must guide herself and her children to safety. And the reader is invited to join them on this terrifying journey into unknown territory. We cannot comprehend what will come of the characters as we flick from page to page.
Bird Box is an easy read and therefore perfect for this time of year when you don’t want to find yourself too challenged from the comfort of your sun lounger. There is a slight disappointment for me in its lack of conclusion; though I guess some things are best left unknown.
I must keep my review short and sweet, as part of its magic and intrigue comes from the lack of knowledge from the reader.
Although I both loved and enjoyed Bird Box, I must admit to having an urgency to reach its conclusion. I was nervous that if I turned out the light too soon, without having finished the book, I would fall prey to the creature myself.
Bird Box: Josh Malerman