Girl on the Train — By Paula Hawkins

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The Girl on the Train.
By Paula Hawkins.

This summer, absolutely everyone has been talking about ‘The Girl on the Train.’ The novel that seemed to come from nowhere described as a debut has surprised the book selling world like an un scheduled train speeding along with no stop signal in sight. The writer, Sophie Hawkins has been a journalist for fifteen years and has churned out a couple of books under the pen name Amy Silvers. These were supposed to be frothy feel good romps, but one suspects from reading Girl on the Train, they probably didn’t feel so good to Hawkins.
Here, we see the assured writer who has found her genre, embraced it and made it her own. It has been a surprise success, written as Hawkins has said out of desperation. It was a last chance to ‘make it,’ in the publishing world.
Hawkins has succeeded on a grand scale. She has made it. Certainly in terms of sales which will please publishers, agents and booksellers across the globe. The novel, in hardback and eBook formats has hit the top spot of the New York Times Bestseller lists. On reading the novel, one has to say she has truly made it, in the sense that truly counts for any writer worth their salt. Hawkins has churned out, not just a nice littler earner, but also a stylish thriller that is well written and crosses the divide easily between the genre thriller and thoroughly decent fiction.
The story is told from three narrative viewpoints. All of them at best shaky and worst, we wonder about their reliability even for the characters themselves, which of course only adds to the building suspense for the reader. It is a stylish way to tell a tale, recently used by Gillian Flynn in Gone Girl and the fabulous Tana French across a range of her books. The sophisticated style not only marks out this novel from the plethora of whodunits and genre novels, but it also adds to the tension. At times, the reader feels the claustrophobia of London, of the summer hot train carriage, of the one rented room, so acutely that you have to breath deep and look to the sky. Tightly drawn characters, simple observations and those precarious narrators egg this on so we are afraid to pin our hopes and sometimes unsure of where to pin them.

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The ‘hook’, like so many brilliant stories is simple, every day and slow cooking. There is a sense of menace in suburbia, and like the guards in Hamlet’s Denmark, we can’t figure out where this danger lies. Each of the protagonists are acutely trapped in lives they consider of their own making. The evolving story emancipates them from the mundane but dangerous jailor among them. The characters are so well conceived, you probably know a number of them already – but hopefully not all! If we feel that some are shadowy to begin with, we learn that all sorts of people and sometimes-even monsters love to live in the shadows – and sometimes they live in suburbia, which is much more unsettling.
This is a thoughtfully put together, insightful study of what it is to be married to someone you never really knew. It is a mystery thriller, stylish and brutal, but too absorbing to be overlooked. Now, I have to confess, that about a hundred pages in, I left it down for a week, my intentions unclear, but I delved headlong into something else. It drew me back though, and I’m glad I returned to it. Girl on the Train proved a satisfying read with a thorough pulling together of all the loose strings and if endings were not always happy, they were certainly just and satisfying. We are left with hope for the protagonist we wanted to root for all along.
Sophie Hawkins has another book under contract. It is a psychological thriller with siblings at its centre – the cat is already looking forward to it!

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One Good Turn — Kate Atkinson

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One Good Turn
By Kate Atkinson.
Kate Atkinson is the first author on my list of reviews, not just because her surname ranks her high in the alphabetical heap. As it happens, I do plan to look at Benjamin Black and Linwood Barclay at some point. No, Kate is there because she features in my top ten list of writers of all time. A serious accolade let me tell you. Indeed, Ms Atkinson is well used to being celebrated. She did, after all win the Whitbread Book of the Year in 1995 for her debut novel; Behind the Scenes at the Museum. Well-deserved too – one up for the girls – as the press at the time were only too happy to muse upon.

However laudable though much of Atkinson’s work is, and she has an enviable list of well written, insightful and absorbing novels to her name, I will be looking here at one of her lesser credited works. It is however, no less popular or entertaining for that.
I have to admit that for me, it’s all about Jackson Brody. Oh, Joy – I think my personal twitter account still counts him as a follower. How absurd to be elated by this. Of course, Ms Atkinson has long moved on. There have been brilliant books since, met with rave and critical reviews – but either way, no-one questions the writing talent or the publishing machine that keeps coming up with absorbing tales. Problem is of course, there hasn’t been a whisper of Jackson, not since ‘Started Early, Took My Dog.’
It was all about Jackson – that crinkly, crotchedy, ex-service man with a heart, long before his personae was taken over by serious heartthrob Jason Isaacs. Some have suggested that Brody is actually a woman in a man’s body. Win-win, I say! A fan of the Woman’s Hour and still able to rescue a damsel in distress – he is almost perfect.
Apart from Julia. Yes, Julia is still here, hasn’t left since Case Histories and the bad news is, she’s sticking around until the end. You have to love her though, even if she makes us want to pull our hair out and scorch our eyeballs. She is comical, earnest in her own way and believably off beat.
Did I mention that the Characters are really well drawn? You get the picture.
The Brody Novels – there are four in total, ranged across a number of years and two cities. They span the turbulent love life of Jackson, his family – what’s left of it, quite a few fist fights and of course a couple of murders for good measure. If you do decide to read them, start at the beginning, sit back and enjoy.
One Good Turn is the first of the novels set in Edinburgh. Atkinson’s Edinburgh is a different city to the one we are used to reading about in Rankin, Mc Call Smith and Walsh. This is Edinburgh, bursting with sounds, with laughter and tourists, bustling excitedly – the rain is never far away, but it feels a warm place. It is a place of family homes, long marriages and carnival revellers. However, above all of this modern city, the Castle looms large and perhaps it sees behind the facades far better than the characters themselves do at first. The action begins with a bang – or rather a crash. One car into another. An unfortunate incident witnessed by a disparate group who have little or nothing in common to begin with it seems. As the story weaves however, we find that lives are connected in small and apparently inconsequential ways and we learn that sometimes the ostensibly insignificant things in life can at the end make all the difference.
Atkinson used the motif of Russian Dolls throughout the novel and there is a sense of unpeeling of skins for each of the characters. The tour de force of this novel in many ways has as much to do with the characters coming to terms with who they have become as much as the reader learning the answers to the various puzzles thrown up in each of the lives examined.
Perhaps Jackson is not the greatest detective in the world, his cases are solved as much through bloody noses and the serendipitous trail of events and disasters that fall across his path. The story is none the worse for that and perhaps stronger, because these are not your average whodunit runarounds. The characters here are people, full, rounded, happy and sometimes sad, often lonely – but never so maudlin that the reader is pulled down with them. We are rooting for Gloria, from the beginning, what woman does not sometimes feel like they could do with the comfort of a Playtex Doreen and a night watching the local wildlife cup of tea in hand? We applaud her when she sets out to right the wrongs of her selfish and greedy husband Graham. How unfortunate that he had a heart attack, how pleased we are when he is no longer a complication!
The plot; a thickly weaved swallows nest of murder, greed, secrets and dishonesty is built from the twigs of interconnected stories. The brilliance of this novel and all of Atkinson’s best, is that the reader is convinced from the word go that this is a story, written by an everywoman for the ordinary everyman. Wrong. This is a skilled artist, casting wide strokes across a backdrop while she surreptitiously lures you deeper into some of the best fiction of the last decade. Moreover, all the while, she has you convinced that this is easier than cottage pie.
And for the genre fans? Don’t worry, all the puzzle pieces fall exactly as they should for a satisfactory denouement, with just a little vengeance added so you close this book like the cat that got the cream!
Five very happy cats for this one….

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