He Said, She Said – A Battle of Perspectives

Eclipse-chasing young couple Kit and Laura are the ideal young couple in love, about to watch the awaited eclipse in Cornwall in 1999, with a future of excitement and fresh opportunities to look forward to after university. But while they are about to view the eclipse, Laura stumbles across a a brutal attack, which she later becomes confused about – was it rape, or did she get it all wrong? As events unfold, we see how this affects the lives of all the people involved, and how things aren’t always what they seem.

Fast-forward to 2015, where the couple have changed their name, are hiding in a non-descript house in the back-ends of London, and all traces of their identity and existence have been scrubbed clean. What has happened to make Laura and Kit go into hiding? What has made the now-pregnant and married Laura so afraid for her husband, who is still held by his love for eclipse?

The crux of this novel, which made it so interesting to read, the layering of relationships and the psychological aspects of the story, which is what really makes it a thriller. The motif of eclipses, which appears throughout the book is a clever backdrop which works surprisingly well – mirroring the shadowing of truth, reality and the reliability of a character’s narrative. What we are left with is a very tense, fascinating story which keeps us guessing while we try to figure out what has happened.

Split between the Then and Now type narrative (which isn’t something I’m always a fan of, but it works here) the story reveals secrets in each time period – as we discover what happened in 1999, we also discover another layer to the truth in 2015 which gives a whole new depth to the story. The thing which makes this story beautiful to read is the haunting descriptions and way the story drags you into an emotional rollercoaster, so that the twists in the story really are unpredictable.

I liked this book enough that I’m looking to pick up more books by this author, although there are, admittedly parts which made me question the credibility of certain things (such as the seemingly-irrational fear the couple have which make them go into hiding). However a lot of the ambiguity in this novel (such as who is the ‘He’ and ‘She’ which is in the title? What are all the characters hiding from each other?) which works in its favour, and makes this something engaging enough to get lost in.

He Said She Said is available to buy on Amazon and was sent to me by Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

One of Us Is Lying – A re-take on The Breakfast Club

Dear Mr. Vernon, we accept the fact that we had to sacrifice a whole Saturday in detention for whatever it was we did wrong. What we did *was* wrong. But we think you’re crazy to make us write an essay telling you who we think we are. What do you care? You see us as you want to see us – in the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions. You see us as a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess and a criminal. Correct? That’s the way we saw each other at 7:00 this morning. We were brainwashed.
– The Breakfast Club (1985)

One of us is lying is truly a tribute to The Breakfast Club, except with dashes of contemporary thriller dramas (it’s being marketed as The Breakfast Club meets Pretty Little Liars, and it’s not wrong there). Just like the characters in The Breakfast Club, five characters who fit a high-school stereotype each are thrown together in a detention class, albeit with a darker twist to this version.
Just look at the blurb – it says it all really:

Pay close attention and you might solve this.
On Monday afternoon, five students at Bayview High walk into detention.
Bronwyn, the brain, is Yale-bound and never breaks a rule.
Addy, the beauty, is the picture-perfect homecoming princess.
Nate, the criminal, is already on probation for dealing.
Cooper, the athlete, is the all-star baseball pitcher.
And Simon, the outcast, is the creator of Bayview High s notorious gossip app.
Only, Simon never makes it out of that classroom. Before the end of detention Simon’s dead. And according to investigators, his death wasn’t an accident.

And just like the film itself, each character is not who they seem – the beautiful bimbo is actually n sympathetic, intelligent teenager, the jock doesn’t really have it all, and so it continues. In the middle of it all is the murder mystery which the characters are all thrown into – with narration from each character’s perspectives, there’s plenty of subtle clues, but it’s not easy at all to guess the culprit in this whodunnit.

I’ll admit, the premise had me interested from the start, but what really kept me reading was how well-developed the characters are – there’s lots of drama, hidden secrets and emotional topics which are dealt with wonderfully with the author. I felt like this was a modern-day Breakfast Club, but with added facets of LGBT, drugs and peer pressure which is very relevant in today’s high-schools and society. I also liked how smart this story is – as a premise it sounds a little clichéd, but it works because the characters are pretty fleshed-out, their relationships with each other feel genuine, and there’s the added effect that  as we get to know each character, there’s always a doubt about them. While we analyse them, get to know and like them, we are always still wondering who the murderer in this story is.

I can’t say that the ending of this novel came with a total bang (as an avid reader of murder mysteries, I did guess the culprit!) but it’s a great story, especially for a debut novel. What stays with me in this story surprisingly wasn’t the murder plot, but the incredibly sweet image of the characters supporting each other as they grow up in this story.

One of us is Lying will be released on 1st June 2017 and was sent to me by Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Unexpected Elephants and Moustache’d Inspectors

On the day that he was due to retire, Inspector Ashwin Chopra discovered that he had inherited an elephant.

And thus starts a novel which takes Inspector Chopra on a journey which no one could have expected at all. Full of murder, conspiracy, domestic dramas in the complex they live in and a cute little elephant, this novel has it all. This novel was recommended to me by a friend who thought I would like it, and I’m glad she did – it reminded me of a lot of things in different way which made me enjoy the story all the more. There’s scenes of the manly hero, Inspector Chopra chasing the ‘baddies’ through meandering roads and hiding in warehouses a la Bollywood style (albeit the 60s and 70s action movies kind). There’s conspiracies, corruption and secrets, with the weak poor classes against the corrupt rich. And at the heart of it all is the focus of traditional values and the importance of honesty.

The story also reminds me a little of another detective series, Alexander McCall Smith’s No 1 Ladies Detective Agency, which has the similarities of infusion of local culture, wonderfully drawn characters and quirky, gentle humour. The story follows the retirement of Inspector Chopra in the richly-described Mumbai, following two mysterious cases; firstly the inheritance of a baby elephant left to him by a loved uncle for reasons unknown, and secondly the drowning of a young man whose death is suspicious, yet keeps being brushed under the carpet. With this, Inspector Chopra’s retirement suddenly feels too peaceful and boring, and the hero is led to investigate on his own, leading him to more serious issues like the corruption of the upper-classes, the activism of lower classes for more rights, into the dark Underworld and slums.

The story is quirky and whimsical enough that there are a few sweet, silly lines which keep the story entertaining, although there are also more serious issues which are given their space, which balance the story well. This isn’t a serious, thriller-type crime novel, but it is a story which draws you into the busy, colourful world of Mumbai and see it through the eyes of a native. This is something which feels a little more old-fashioned, quietly showing us the story yet charming, the characters are very likeable, such as the sub-plot of the Inspector’s marriage with his feisty wife Poppy (and her mother!), and the impact of the baby elephant on all of their lives.

I really enjoyed this novel, if only because I loved the story is brought together, the two mysteries running alongside each other, with the colourful voice of Mumbai, street-life and the gentle humour which gives this story the whimsical touch. There are some who have said that this story isn’t credible, or even very original, but I think that it’s hard to depict the characters and city-life of India the way this story has, and it has been quite well done. I’m already looking forward to the next in the series on my book reader, and I’ll wait to see if the baby elephant is still in the next novel!

Daughter: The things your children don’t tell you

Jane Shemilt’s debut novel Daughter encapsulates every parents’ fear – the day that their child doesn’t come home. Jenny seems to have the perfect life – the perfect neurosurgeon husband, three high-achieving children and the perfect career – until her youngest child, 15-year-old Naomi goes to her school play one night and never comes home. As the hours turn into days and months, the police don’t seem to be getting anywhere, and Jenny is forced to re-examine her relationship not just with her daughter but the entire family. Fresh-faced, education-focused Naomi who apparently doesn’t like the taste of alcohol, doesn’t smoke and barely wears makeup is soon u51GCAP+U-qL._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_nravelled throughout the course of Jenny’s memories and the investigation into the disappearance as not being all she seems. The fact that her daughter has been keeping many secrets from Jenny is just as painful as her disappearance, and likewise, Naomi’s twin older brothers, Ed and Theo, seem to be hiding a few secrets of their own – and what of Ted, Jenny’s perfect surgeon husband?

As Jenny discovers more secrets about her daughter’s life, we see how she begins to see her own failings as a mother, and even the problems she has having with her career and marriage. I had a little bit of a gripe with the approach of this novel, which is intended to make us question the idea of parenting, although this perhaps may be to make the reader see the age-old question of whether a working mother can be a good parent – and the guilt that comes with this. Throughout, Jenny asserts that she has been a respectful mother who has given her children space and privacy, and yet there are glaring signs that this has gone wrong, her children have felt neglected, and that she doesn’t have a clue who her children really are. Again, there is a suggestion that it is never easy to know which is worse, being a ‘helicopter-parent’ or being a laid-back parent who gives their child too much freedom and independence.

The only thing which lets this narrative down is the structure – which alternates between the days leading up to and the immediate aftermath of Naomi’s disappearance, and a year later when Jenny is spending her Christmas in an isolated cottage, still searching for her daughter. While this is designed to explore memory and make us see scenes from difference points of time, it also was a little disappointing because it meant that every clue and lead found in the weeks following the disappearance led nowhere a year later. The Then and Now structure works for some novels but not this one – mainly because it makes the build-up slow and undermines the tension.

Without writing in any spoilers for the book, I will say that there are a lot of interesting twists and turns in the novel, although I wasn’t satisfied entirely with the ending of the story. A lot of other readers have agreed with me that the characters and their actions aren’t entirely believable, and that there are times when the characters don’t feel realistic in their actions. At times Jenny becomes a spoilt, middle-class trope for the modern parent who is too neglectful, which makes it a little harder to sympathise with her – yet it also seems that she is vilified so that she is made out to be a bad parent. This is also underscored by the fact that we never really meet the missing teenager herself – Naomi comes across as moody, secretive and mysterious by the people who think they know her.

Overall, this novel is fairly thought-provoking – can we ever completely know the ones we love? Jenny’s seemingly perfect life is only that on the surface, making us question whether it is possible to have it all – the perfect career, family and marriage. The general message of Daughter is that we don’t always know our families – particularly our teenage children – as well as we think we do.

Death, Memory and Scars Among Yellow Flowers

“Snow White poisoned. Cinderella enslaved. Rapunzel locked up. Tessie, dumped with bones. Some monster’s twisted fantasy,”

“I am the Cartwright girl, dumped once upon a time with a strangled college student and a stack of human bones out past Highway 10, in an abandoned patch of field near the Jenkins property. I am the star of screaming tabloid headlines and campfire ghost stories. I am one of the four Black-Eyed Susans. The lucky one.”

Black-Eyed Susans by Julia Heaberlin follows Tessa (no longer ‘Tessie’, a name which has been abandoned along with her childhood innocence), lone surviving victim of a serial killer who dumped her along with three other dead girls, buried amongst the yellow flowers known as ‘Black-eyed Susans’, which also becomes their moniker. Hindered by her memory loss surrounding the incident, Tessa struggles to pinpoint who has done this to her, working through therapy and recovering with help of her best friend Lydia, but all the while unsure about what happened leading up to the time she was found and why she was chosen.

Now, 17 years later, Tessa’s doubts grow heavier about the man apprehended and serving on death-row for the crime, especially as the deadline for his black eyed susansexecution approaches. Re-examining the facts which don’t seem to add up, she re-counts the times that someone has planted Black-eyed Susans flower around her home, left there for her to find, as well as potential clues she has found and kept over the years. Now an adult with a teenaged daughter of her own, Tessa goes back to her memories and looks back with an adult mind, working with the police and with new DNA and forensic methods to find out if the right man really was caught, or if she is still in danger.

I’m not usually a big fan of the flashback method but in this case it works, the two narratives of Tessa at 17 after her abduction weaved with the perspective of Tessa in present time 17 years later work well together. The flashbacks are not prolonged or dragged out, and serve to heighten the anticipation as Tessa slowly unravels the mystery in both time periods.

Filled with intense, eccentric and interesting characters, the novel is a well-crafted one, making the mystery pulled together by not only the characters but their backgrounds and their stories. There’s Tessa’s  grandfather with his morbid fascination with death, fairy-tale stories and a giant, almost grotesque castle of a house; her best friend Lydia, a highly intelligent young girl who supports Tessa with witticisms and poetry, yet is fascinated by death, celebrity gossip murder cases and eccentric parts of history, Tessa’s own daughter Charlie, wiser than her years and cool in the face of Tessa’s fears; and of course their scatty elderly neighbour Effie, a quirky, brilliant scientist who can’t cook and is worried about someone stealing all the diggers in the neighbourhood.

I won’t agree with critics who say this is for fans of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl – although it may perhaps have a touch of the same dark mystery of Dark Places by the same author, which follows a woman looking for answers about her family’s massacre. The book is one that slowly creeps up on the reader, intense but well-researched, combining the psychological with facts about forensics. For those who like thrillers and mystery, this is a good pick although be prepared for a slower unravelling of the story rather than fast-paced action.

Although I wasn’t entirely too satisfied with the ending of this novel, it is a good one, and there is enough of the unexpected if you don’t spot the hints along the way. Heaberlin has an ability to create characters which, although flawed, are interesting ones – Tessa herself is a myriad of emotions and but her growth from scarred teenager to a stable, confident woman and mother is admirable. This is a satisfyingly creepy and compelling story, almost a twist on a dark fairytale which leads you through to new questions with each new answer given – but definitely a thriller to remember.

 

A View from a Train: The Girl on the Train

sonder
n. the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own—populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness—an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed, in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk.
– The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrrows.

The idea of a narrator travelling back and forth to London by train is something a lot of us commuters can relate to, watching our fellow travellers go about their morning rituals, absorbed in their books, mobiles phones, iPads, staring out of windows and generally avoiding each other in all of our splendid British awkwardness.

“There is something comforting at the sight of strangers safe at home.”

the-girl-on-the-train-paula-hawkins

Paula Hawkin’s The Girl on the Train follows Rachel and her daily train journey into London, giving us the chance to relate to the monotone journeys . Everyday it stops at the same place, giving her the chance to peer into the life of a young couple who live in a row of houses behind the railway tracks, whom she calls Jess and Jason. Daydreaming about their perfect relationship, Rachel becomes more and more obsessed with the details of their lives, embellishing their story and giving herself hope that happiness exists out there somewhere.

“It’s as if people can see the damage written all over me, can see it in my face, the way I hold myself, the way I move.”

But it also from here we learn that Rachel is not the perfect narrator – she’s depressed, self-pitying, and bitter. She has an alcohol-dependency problem, she’s lost her job, and her life is spiralling downwards and is looking like a dead-end. For there is another reason that this row of houses that her train stops at holds Rachel’s obsession – a few doors down from ‘Jess and Jason’ lives her ex-husband Tom, with his beautiful new wife and their baby in her old house.

“They’re what I lost, they’re everything I want to be.”

If this isn’t bleak enough, events take a turn from this depressing start to get worse. Rachel wakes up from another drunken blackout, bruised and bloody and unable to remember the night before or how she got home. She also discovers that ‘Jess’, or Megan, as her real name is, has gone missing and that her seemingly perfect husband ‘Jason’ is the prime suspect. Becoming worried about her part in events, Rachel sets out to find out what happened in her lost hours, and also coming to terms with her own history with her ex-husband and their failed marriage.

The concept of this novel is an interesting one – intertwining the perspectives of three women; Rachel, the failed, miserable drunk, Megan, the missing woman and Anna, the beautiful wife who has replaced Rachel – all with their own flaws, problems and the events of one night which is seeped in mystery and ambiguity.

“I have lost control over everything, even the places in my head.”

There is a sense of disorientation throughout this novel which can be off-putting, and the lines between Rachel’s reality and her memories and drunken impressions can blur together at time, making it confusing about what has already happened and what is the present. It’s also a little depressing – Rachel is not an attractive character, and the ugly scenes of her alcohol abuse is even more depressing, down to the urine-soaked underwear and vomit on the stairs outlining her unaddressed mental issues and her inability to change the predictability of her life.

A lot of reviewers have commented that they found this book difficult to like, and that Rachel is a hard character to relate to because she is so self-pitying, stalker-ish and weak, and that her lack of responsibility for her actions is very off-putting. I agree that it took time to get into this book because of this – she may be a commuter on the train to London, but not one that we feel a kinship with,  if anything she is the embarrassing passenger we all see and hope that they don’t sit next to us.

“So who do I want to be tomorrow?”

Despite this, there’s an interesting mystery at the core of this story – we see how Rachel’s ‘Jess’ is nothing like the real Megan, and how she is a flawed character mirroring Rachel, and similarly we see Anna’s role as the not-so-triumphant victor in marriage and mother-hood. It’s also interesting to re-interpret this novel – is it about identity? About mental illness? Or does it have a darker tone which makes us question what we will do when we are pushed to our limits?

“I am no longer just a girl on the train, going back and forth without point or purpose.”

I won’t include any spoilers for anyone who is still waiting to pick up this book, but I will add that patience is needed if you want to read this, mainly because there is a lot of meandering before the story picks up, and also because the character makes you question what’s in her mind and what really has happened. And the other characters in the novel are just as unpleasant at times – there’s a nasty streak in some of them which makes us question their motives, our reluctant sympathy for Rachel and the notion of peering out of a window and looking at the lives of strangers.

An interesting thriller and definitely different to a lot of murder mysteries I have read before, but it may not be to everyone’s tastes and there’s an unpleasant taste at the end of it because you’re left disliking most of the characters.

Journal Your Ramadan – Day #3: C is for Currently Reading

I love picking up new books that I’ve heard reviews about – like my sisters, I have a huge pile of books waiting to be read, and an even bigger pile on my electronic book-reader (which I keep adding to!).

Aside from reading holy books such as the Quran during the month of Ramadan, we find that there’s suddenly a lot of free time now that the day doesn’t revolve around food and cooking. I’ve been giving myself a portion of time every day to relax and have a read – when you’re absorbed in another world, its easy to not count the hours!

These books below are on my book list of things I’ve been reading, I have a lot more but these are the ones I’ve been meaning to read for ages, and I’ll be posting reviews of them all soon.

What’s on your current reading list?

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The Murder of Snow White

“Skin as white as snow, hair as black as ebony and lips as red as blood.”

At first glance, Nele Neuhaus’ bestselling novel now Snow White Must Die seems to be a typical thriller, one full of tense narrative, dramatic conspiracies and elaborate wrongdoings – and I suppose, in a way, it is. But there is nothing of the American, stylized, sensational thriller in this novel – it’s dark , mysterious and depressing, but it’s also very human, and has nothing of the cold, easy solutions wrapped up in the usual whodunnits.

Translated from Neuhaus’ native German, the story issnowwhitemustdie one that creeps up on you as you get deeper into it, and the narrative trickles into several voices and characters, with a few sub-plots, different timelines, flash-backs which are seen in different perspectives, as well as a twisting storyline which is actually quite believable.

I’ll admit, I love my murder mysteries and thrillers, although a lot of the ones I seem to read these days are either junk-book-style or good ole’ Agatha Christy, who, as much as I love her , becomes a little predictable once you’ve read all of her books (it’s never the butler who did it, it’s usually the secretary).

Set in a small village in present-day Germany, the plot begins with a tragedy that has already taken place a decade earlier. Newly-released from prison, Tobias Sartorius returns to his home town after serving eleven years in prison for the conviction of murdering two girls, the beautiful Stefanie, dubbed Snow White, and ex-girlfriend Laura, both missing in mysterious circumstances which no one, including Tobias himself, have ever figured out. The bodies of both girls have never been found, and the village has never quite recovered from the shadows of the murder, shaping the inhabitants in ways which have changed them.

Meanwhile, Detective Inspector Pia Kirchhoff and DS Oliver von Bodenstein are in charge of a new case, that of a discovery of some bones dug up in a nearby quarry, thus re-opening suspicions about what really happened on the night of the double homicide. As the village inhabitants close ranks and remain tight-lipped about what they know, and the atmosphere in the tight-knit community becomes more and more strained, it becomes apparent that there is a something much more complicated going on, and suspicions that perhaps Tobias isn’t really the guilty party. Through random acts of violent, heartbreaking revenge, the false veneers of the deceiving behaviour of the villagers, and the arrival of a young girl called Amelie (who resembles the missing Snow White), it is clear that although Tobias has served his time, there are still plenty of secrets leftover, and plenty of people willing to go far to keep them.

Nele Nauhaus’ book has taken the book world by storm, and after reading it, I wasn’t surprised it had. I initially thought this was going to be a typical, dumbed-down mystery, but was pleasantly surprised to find that it wasn’t – if anything, it twists several strands of genres to be more than just a typical murder mystery. It reminded me also of popular Danish series The Killing, a gritty, depressing and well-written drama which also follows several characters in the aftermath of murder. Snow White Must Die is similar in style, and in successfully creating an atmosphere which stays long after the book has ended. As one reviewer put very well, “Neuhaus is terrific at creating the complex claustrophobia of a village where the same families have lived for generations” – there’s a real sense of right and wrong being muddied, and loyalties being blurred and confused.

What I loved most about this book is that it evokes an era unique to the village and to German culture – I’m used to very English settings, American pop culture and even the usual fast-pace of thrillers and murder mysteries – but this is different, showing the livelihoods of the villagers, the close-knit community and the law and justice in this village. The end of this novel leaves the reader thinking about not only the butterfly effect of one night which ripples out into the present; but also the fact that there’s no clichéd concept of the ‘hero’ and the ‘villain’, all have been touched and damaged by the tragedy, and all have to confront the truth when it is revealed. It is certainly a good read, and one which draws you into the lives of more than one character, but it may not appeal to everyone – it is gritty and it is depressing, and there is no easy solution at its end. It draws home the fact that there is a petty, ugly side to everyone, that in the ordinary and mundane there can also be jealousy, deceit and misplaced loyalty which can  lead to something more sinister. I would definitely recommend this as something to try even if you don’t usually read murder mysteries – the characters will draw you in and there’s even a slight touch of The Count of Monte Cristo about it which resonates.

Journal Your Ramadan – Day #4: Currently Reading

I’m a big reader, which means I have piles of books in my room, several hundred ebooks on my laptop, book reader and mobile, and about three or four pages of lists of ‘To Read’ books to collect. I also have quite a bad habit of reading more than one book at the same time so that I’ll have about three or four different storylines in my head which I pick up again when I’m reading a book.

Here’s what I’m reading at the moment, a novel about a Slovakian Gypsy in World War Two, Zoli; a book on my eReader called The Perks of Being a Wallflower, which I’m really enjoying, a graphic novel called Superman True Brit, which I’ve mentioned a few times before, and which I’m trying to re-read so I can post a review/re-cap of the best bits on my blog; and lastly a book given to me by my sister called The Four Agreements, which is more of a philosophical self-awareness book (which I’m not usually into, but it comes very well recommended and I’ve heard good things!)

Over the years, I’ve had less and less time to read (and I’m sure you can all relate) as I get more commitments, more things to do at home and work, and less time to myself, so it’s nice when I do get to sit down and read. I’m always in a ‘cycle’ when it comes to reading too, sometimes I’ll feel like reading a lot of fantasy, sometimes it will be a lot of murder mystery, and then this could be followed by a lot of dystopic sci-fi. At the moment I’m leaning towards historical and epic novels (and Batman comics), although previously I was reading a few novels by Charlaine Harris which were all based in The South (of US) which was interesting!

Ramadan is the best time to read the holy Quran during thee month, but there are other things to read too, to improve your day-to-day life or to reach inner-peace –  with some talks, some stories of the Prophet, or even just a few verses of prayer which can be read with prayer beads. It’s easy to forget to do this in this time, we’re tired, hot and not always able to concentrate, but time and time again I’m reminded of the value of praying and reading so that we can reap the rewards.

Also on the subject of reading, here are a few Ramadan Links to read for those of your who want food ideas, kids activity ideas or just lectures and talks to listen to – have a browse!

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“Physician steal thyself” – A Doctor Disappears

Richard T. Kelly’s ‘The Possessions of Doctor Forrest‘ implies, at first, a straightforwardly ordinary, although puzzling tale. The novel’s central character is a Scottish cosmetic surgeon, who, from its very opening, has gone missing – much to the concern of two of his closest friends. And the clues he has left behind are sparse, leaving not much insight into his lifestyle, the people he loved, or the possible reasons for his disappearance. But this is a horror story, and one which creeps up on you slowly, and Kelly creates a eerie atmosphere which leaves both the readers and the doctor’s friends unsure about what has happened, but very aware that something is very wrong. drforrest

Always throughout this nove, is some form of reference to an Other, a supernatural influence in the story, which the grounded best friends are unable to accept with their sceptical minds, yet they are unable to ignore that fact there are surreal acts at play which cannot simply be explained away. As they begin to delve into their old friend Doctor Forrest’s life, they begin to realise how his personality is but a mere mask for his real feelings and intentions, and hides a persona they never knew.

And of course, as with these revelations come the Faustian motif – as life, youth and eternity which are constantly being examined are valued, so is emphasised the price that needs to be paid – a theme of life and death which are always inevitably coupled. Doctor Forrest’s secrets and his thirst for more in life are slowly unravelled, layers of which lie with the various encounters he has with people and with relationships he has with not only them, but with the journeys he takes to reach his ambitions.

And of course, as with these revelations come the Faustian motif – as life, youth and eternity which are constantly being examined are valued, so is emphasised the price that needs to be paid – a theme of life and death which are always inevitably coupled. Doctor Forrest’s secrets and his thirst for more in life are slowly unravelled, layers of which lie with the various encounters he has with people and with relationships he has with not only them, but with the journeys he takes to reach his ambitions.

Without giving too much away, suffice to say that Doctor Forrest and his companions are slowly drawn into the world of mystique, darkness and the supernatural. And just as the disappearance of the doctor is not explained away simply, nor is his descent into his final destination any less complex. There are familiar gothic literary devices peppered throughout, the use of landscape to create an eerie atmosphere, the symbolism of blood, the theme of isolation throughout the novel, and so on.

The Possessions of Doctor Forrest is not a novel which rushes, it builds up tension gradually, reflected through the prisms of each narrator’s concerns, as family-men, career-men and as spiritualists. While the settings are of a modern landscape, that of present-day Scotland and London, the behaviours of the characters and the feelings which are emanated feel classic and timeless – that of the idea of sin, of wanting to live forever, of love and of what it means to be man. This novel harks back to the styles of classic novels, that of Dorian Gray, Dracula and Frankenstein, where the quest to be something greater is bound up with not only the spooky supernatural, but the premise of man’s fallacy and the inevitability of choices which must be made.

Or, as one blogger summed up:

 “The Possessions of Doctor Forrest” wears its learning lightly, and creates something dark, modern and terrifying from it. Brilliant.”