Review: The Returned by Jason Mott

The returnedVerdict:
The idea of the dead rising back to life is one that has been targeted through many art forms. Our culture is currently obsessed with the ‘zombie’ genre, Brad Pitt’s latest endeavour ‘World War Z’ is a highlight of this. However, The Returned does not fall into this typical zombie category. Characters may be returning from the dead, but they are not brainless creatures with the sole ambition to kill the living; these ‘zombies’ have preserved the personalities of the bodies that they left one, ten or even fifty years ago. They can walk, talk and yes, they are on the hunt for their families.

Harold and Lucille have spent their breathing life stuck in a version of the living limbo since their eight year old son drowned in 1966. The couple receive a knock on the door one day and on their doorstep stands an agent, Martin Bellamy, and with him is a young boy, Jacob: their son. Although, Harold and Lucille aren’t the only ones experiencing a reunion with a deceased family member; the whole world is faced with the dead coming back to life.

This is not a novel of hows: How did Jacob die? How are the dead returning to Earth? How are some people coming back and others not? It is instead an experiment on how individuals will cope with seeing their loved ones, who they had accepted they would never look in the eye, again. It is a story about trying to do things differently when you thought that you had lost the chance. It is a poem about peace.

The reason why I was interested in reading The Returned was because I thought it resembled the French television show of the same name. Surprisingly it turned out to be different in many ways. The television show captures our imagination as a mystery, whilst Mott’s version fascinates our human psychology.

Mott gave hints to the way the novel could have gone down if his philosophy was different. We realistically see how those in power tried to take charge by locking the returned and supporters up. Yet the novel doesn’t bother to go to great lengths in showing how the Government’s plan unfolds. Similarly many returnees are given two page chapters on how this reliving experience is for them. One very interesting perspective illustrated that some NAZI supporters have returned. Yet these intriguing ideas are never really showcased as Mott doesn’t go into detail about these characters.

Instead Mott focused on the area of Arcadia Valle in Missouri. This real community was represented as somewhere extremely rural and backwards, making it work well with the less dramatic storyline. When Harold and Jacob are kept in confinement it does make you lose focus for a while. Although, it is necessary that the father and son are locked up as this allows them to bond in ways they were finding it difficult to do so outside.

Within the story the characters emotions would rightfully change drastically, but some I found more realistic than others. From the beginning I thought it would be Harold that I would gain a firm disliking to. His inability to be grateful that his son had returned was quite upsetting. Although, by the end it was him who I felt the most connected with and this was an extreme role reversal compared to Lucille. As her character progressed she becomes the only one who would challenge the new normal. But this crescendo in the book seemed unrealistic to her character. Also, I found her letter contradictory to her passion and happiness at the beginning of the book.

Furthermore Pastor Robert Peters was one I gathered a great disliking too. When the actions of God are questioned in a story it is common for there to be a Pastor whose beliefs are challenged as a consequence. This is always interesting to analyse, however, it was upsetting to look at Peters as almost a fraud in the end. We tend to put our hands in faith when something goes wrong in our life, but this just shows that Pastors are pure human and this can crumble our hopes to have someone to look up to in a bad situation.

The concept in itself has a lot it could have worked with. Some readers may not enjoy the route Mott has chosen to go down. However, I believe Mott has been successful in his debut novel in conveying the ideas he wished to emplace on the reader. Those ideas he confessed to us within his emotional Author’s Note.

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Review: Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight

ReconstructingVerdict:

Kimberly McCreight’s debut novel shares the haunts of Gone Girl and imposes questions on society making it one of the best thrillers to read in 2013.

‘Reconstructing Amelia’ begins with workaholic mother, Kate Baron, hearing that her nerdy daughter Amelia has been suspended from Grace Hall for cheating. When Kate arrives late to the school, the importance of Amelia’s copied To the Lighthouse paper becomes insignificant with the news that her daughter has committed suicide.

Or has she? Unable to escape from her grief Kate returns back to her work but only back to her life when she receives a blocked text stating: Amelia Didn’t Jump. This anonymous message works as a catalyst for Kate to reconstruct the truths behind her dead daughter and discover what happened on the rooftops of Grace Hall.

Having this plot as a basis -and the gorgeous poetic cover to match – had me hooked in reading this novel. Also, being a teenager myself, I was excited to read my favourite genre from the perspective of someone my own age.

Alternating chapters of the novel were told from the voices of both Kate and Amelia. It worked well that in Kate’s chapters she would be unravelling another piece of information about Amelia’s secret life, and we would have just heard that detail from Amelia’s point of view in the previous chapter. You would expect that these repetitions of stories would become boring and not work in stimulation the imagination, however in this case it did and helped everything to fit into place.

The book was well constructed with whose eyes we witnessed the plot from at the beginning. Like Kate, at the start we are kept in the dark about the characteristics of Amelia so we knew things were wrong but not to what extent.

The tenses used were a bit peculiar. Kate’s perspective was fair enough third person, although first person was deployed for Amelia. Because of this, I couldn’t help but hope that Amelia would be alive at the end as she had possibly been hiding from the Maggies. Using texts and Facebook messages within the book added to a fun account and gave it a more interactive flavour.

The novel really did keep me guessing until the final moment. Frequently I would feel arrogant that I had worked out all the answers, thinking that anyone would have spotted who the murderer was by now and I was getting irritated at Kate for not realising who she should be blaming. Then precisely the chapter beginning 36 pages before the end, it turned out I was wrong all along. McCreight was toying with me from the start. She made it feel as though I had separately worked out the killer was. She kept Kate from meeting this person to only fuel this idea. I was left the fool in the end.

Most of the characters in the whole book were disgusting creatures. Some of the things that both the teenagers and the adults would come out with were so extreme that I can’t imagine that anyone would dare be equally so vile in the real word. Zadie is the first lady that comes to mind. It was similarly as shocking how the teenagers would treat Kate after she had lost her daughter. No one shed any sympathy towards her and instead they would be irritated with her for wasting their time. Well, I suppose Ian was the only one who did give her a minute, but his answer made him as bad as the rest. Also the school was an absolute joke. How the teachers could act so uncaring was beyond me and the worst of them all was the secretary, Mrs Pearl.

It’s common nature for when you read a book to want the baddies to be severely punished in the end. That was why I was severely angry that the author behind gRaCeFULLY (or should I call it Gossip Girl?) didn’t gain much recognition in the end.

In lots of novels you have characters that are very weak. That is why I embraced Kate and her believable anger towards those around her and her inability to control her emotions. It was liberating to hear the conversation between Kate and her mum on the phone. Amelia was a character who I related with from the start and her doomed future was tragic. Hearing from Amelia’s side was a great advantage in giving an accurate account of the events and sometimes I would become so lost into what she was saying that I would forget that this was McCreight and not a real teenager.

Despite all the red herrings in the novel, the information acquired from these plot twists were still relevant. It was as though all of Kate’s back history and emotions were flung into the first ten pages of the book so the rest of the novel could give way to the chase. Although I see little detail as a good thing, I was pretty disappointed that the motives behind Amelia’s love interest weren’t fleshed out. A big part to play in Amelia’s last few days was due to this person.

There were some pretty unrealistic qualities in the book that were over the top. How the school never bothered about Amelia’s case, how the school board were allow students to have secret clubs and how Lew and Kate went about their investigation. It summed up how all the power was in the wrong hands.

The great insight into a fragile mother and daughter relationship made this book even more than just a “fun thriller”. Although Amelia’s narrative tried to tell us otherwise, I believe that a large part of the blame has to be with Kate. She shouldn’t have been so wrapped up in her work to not have spent time listening to her daughter.

‘Reconstructing Amelia’ has used all the best ingredients to make the perfect thriller and I hope there are more books similar to this in the future.

Review: Some Day I’ll Find You by Richard Madeley

Some DayVerdict:

For almost ten years Richard and his wife Judy have maintained the title of creating the biggest book club in the UK. Tempted to put his expertise into practise, this book critic has turned his hand to penning his own work of fiction. The outcome is ‘Some Day I’ll Find You’, an intriguing mix of genres, a realistic insight into personas and the lengths they will go to get what they want.

It’s 1938 and Diana Arnold is a nineteen year old with big ideas studying at Cambridge. When her brother John returns home for a visit from the RAF, he brings along the gorgeous James Blackwood. However, Blackwell isn’t all that he seems.

Diana and James cement their love by quickly becoming married. But weddings never do run smoothly so straight after Diana becomes Mrs Blackwood both her husband and brother are called into action and killed. Diana is left a widow and pregnant.

The novel transports us ten years into the future as we see Diana now happily remarried living in Southern France with her new husband Douglas and her and Blackwood’s daughter Stella. As she reads a newspaper alone in a café to practice her French, Diana hears a recognisable voice shoot out of a taxi. Her peaceful life spins out of control.

It’s almost impossible to believe that ‘Some Day I’ll Find You’ is the debut novel of Madeley as his storytelling creates the perfect  balance between pace and impact that most authors are unable to accomplish in their careers. Some writers install too much description that you find yourself fading away and rereading every paragraph. Others only discuss action making the writing appear almost childlike. Whereas Richard is ideal in providing enough description so the readers grip is never lessened.

It feels as though the novel could have been released in two instalments as genres drastically change from part one to part two. We witness the blooming love story between James and Diana in the first half, tainted with the poison that is set to come. The second is a psychological thriller where you are enticed to uncover the true character of James Blackwell.

The analysis of historical eras also needs to be praised. Despite the novel not being a full on war genre, there is just enough information peppered around this time scale which means we are not swamped in facts and figures. Here Madeley has put is journalistic instincts aside to refrain from boring us with overflowing statistics.

Instead of focusing on one protagonist, Richard gives us slight perceptions into minor characters lives as well. This adds to reality of the novel and almost shares Charles Dickens qualities.

From the start James Blackwell is a character not to be trusted. As the novel progresses, he is proven to be psychotic, blackmailing Diana’s new husband in an attempt to show he controls everything he wishes.

What Madeley has accomplished is admirable to me. My wish is to also become a journalist, although I have always had a love for fiction and my ambition is to one day write a book. He has shown that it is possible for a journalist to create a great read by both dismissing and utilising skills of the trade.

Richard Madeley proves with ‘Some Day I’ll Find You’ that he has the ability to tell a story through both facts and fiction.