Tag Archives: A.S.A Harrison

Do Comparisons Help Or Hinder A Book?

We all do it don’t we? You cannot help comparing books to other books; it is how we gage what we think of them after all. You need to read some duds, or a few ‘meh’ ones, in order to work out what you like and what you don’t even when the books couldn’t be further apart – for example tonight I will be recording the third episode of Hear, Read This! and will probably end up comparing Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s Marina with Ursula le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness to make various points. Those two book are around 30 years apart in publishing and have two very different audiences in mind because of their genres. Comparisons will be made though. Yet in the industry there seems to be this need, which is know is marketing, for books to be compared to other books and I sometimes wonder if this helps or hinders those books?

An example of this would be my thoughts/review of The Silent Wife yesterday. Throughout the review I couldn’t help but allude and compare it to Gone Girl because that is what the quotes do and that is how the publishers are pushing it. In many ways this completely makes sense as a) Flynn’s book was huge last year and people are always looking for the next ‘x’ author b) there are some similarities between the two books – as I discussed. Yet this can also be slightly detrimental as not only might a reader have certain expectations that aren’t fulfilled can leave them feeling less favourable or indeed with the hype of the amazing book it was compared to give a reader such high expectations it could fall because of them. For me the Gone Girl comparison got me to read The Silent Wife  but my expectations were massive because of it. The book may, who can say for sure, have done better with me if I had just read it as a thriller, simple as that.

Gone Girl is a very specific example yet currently it perfectly highlights this trend. Not only are lots of books for 2014 coming with the tagline in the press release along the lines of ‘a thriller with more twists than Gone Girl’ and ‘a literary novel that will appeal to fans of Gone Girl for its twists’ (those are two word for word examples) but also I have noticed that some books coming out next year don’t mention Gone Girl but have its look. For example (see below) the stunning cover of Peter Swanson’s The Girl With A Clock For A Heart, which arrived this morning and I am very excited about, it doesn’t say Gone Girl  anywhere on it but the imagery is there, just a touch but there nonetheless. This happened with Twilight and even a Bronte got an apple on the cover.

The other problem with this is at the opposite end of the spectrum. I know lots of people who loathed Gone Girl (the crazy fools) and who if see a book that looks like it or is said to be like it makes them veer away as fast as possible, possibly missing a trick. I remember seeing many a book with ‘the next Stieg Larsson’ and thinking ‘well I definitely won’t be reading that then’ and almost cutting my nose of to spite my face as I might have missed out on Yrsa Sigurdardottir, who regulars here will know I love, because she was referred to as ‘Iceland’s answer to Stieg Larsson’.

It is a tricky one though because what do I want to hear people saying? The only one I can think of is the commonly used, and therefore highly unoriginal, quote of ‘a new and original voice’. Poor publishers, they can’t win can they bless them. Food for thought though isn’t it? Which books have you read because they have been compared to a book you loved and how did they compare? Have you ever avoided a book because of another it was compared to and if so what?

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Random Savidgeness

The Silent Wife – A.S.A. Harrison

When you have a book that is such a hit as Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl was last year it is natural that publishers  and readers want to hunt out the ‘next Gone Girl’ as it were. The Silent Wife by A.S.A. Harrison, who sadly passed away this April, has been heralded by many as being that book, the cover glimmering with wonderful quotes from Kate Atkinson, Tess Gerritsen, Sophie Hannah, S. J. Watson and S.J. Bolton, Hannah even saying it is even better than Gone Girl. Quite some praise there from some of my favourite authors. The question of course was before I started the book was could The Silent Wife live up to it?

Headline Books, 2013, paperback, thriller, 384 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

Jodi Brett and Todd Gilbert seem like the perfect couple and have done for over twenty years. She the beautiful house proud psychotherapist and he the property developer, they are both high achievers. However every couple has secrets behind the facade and in the case of Jodi and Todd it is the fact that he goes and has many a dalliance, because he simply cannot be faithful, and Jodi accepts it and lives with it as he always comes back. Yet Todd has recently met someone who is different than the rest and things could go horribly wrong for Jodi as his common law wife, as we discover from page two things will go wrong ‘given that a few short months are all it will take to make a killer out of her.’

Unusually that makes The Silent Wife less of a whodunit and more a mixture of a whydunit and when-gonna-do-it which I don’t think I have come across in a novel before and so from the start gave it an edge. It is also quite a risky move as from the outset the reader knows what is coming… or do they? For one thing that Harrison does prove good at is switching things on you when you are least expecting it.

What Harrison also does which is risky is make both her lead characters rather unlikeable. Todd is just pretty repugnant. A man living on credit to the max, yet acting like he is rolling in money and splashing it about, who will pretty much shag anything but come back to the woman who makes him divine meals and then occasionally puts out too. Yep, a complete letch, a clever move though as I was desperate to see him slaughtered. Jodi herself is more of a mystery and an enigma. Initially we see a strong woman wronged. Yet as we get to know her she becomes slightly more intriguing, why does she get so obsessive about how our pasts and youth affect us for example? Also we get to see a darker side now and again, as if the aforementioned hint of her killer nature at the start wasn’t enough, we learn that while she may appear fine with Todd’s wandering pants there is an icy rage and eye for small but important revenge on occasion.

The next day opens with a series of misadventures. To begin with he gets to work at his usual early hour only to find that one of his keys – the one that opens the street door – is missing from his key ring. Stranding on the sidewalk with his mobile phone he curses when he fails to connect with the janitor. He doesn’t know how this could have happened; keys don’t detach on their own from a steel ring. He nonetheless walks the three blocks back to his Porsche to search the seats and floor and then calls Jodi, waking her up, to ask if she’ll have a look around at home.

It is the dislikeable nature of the protagonists and the breakdown and secrets behind a relationship plus the fact it’s a thriller that bring the comparisons to Gone Girl. Yet the comparisons do a disservice to The Silent Wife in many ways. Firstly because The Silent Wife is, no pun intended a much quieter book and all the more real for it. The breakdown of the relationship is one that we hear about all too often and is therefore something we completely believe in, and the way Harrison writes about it is spot on.

Secondly, deep down, there is a very dark subject going on linking to the characters pasts. The book looks into how our parent’s relationships affect ours with our partners both for the good and the bad as we try to learn from what we liked, and indeed, didn’t like about their partnership. It also looks at the things that we like to hide, even from ourselves, and that inevitably no matter how much something is hidden cracks will start in the foundations of that secret, deeply hidden as it may be, that will eventually reach the surface. This is explored in Jodi’s job as a psychotherapist, and that practice seemed to me another subject up for discussion, as well as with Jodi herself.

Gerard grew in her esteem, became an anchor that kept her stable in unchartered waters and also, in a way, her muse. A nod, a word, a gesture from Gerard could be a marker and a prompt. His dependable squint and mellow vowels were co-conspirators in the enterprise of drawing her out. Even the room itself, the neutral colors, the uniform light, and the quietude, with only an occasional burst of voices from the hallway or a distant bump or thump of a door closing, but muffled, as if underwater, could turn the crank of her memory, take her back to the jurisdiction of her earliest years, bringing them once again to life.  

In those aspects the book is possibly better or equal to Gone Girl, as the narrators there both have ‘pasts’ yet sadly for me a few things really let The Silent Girl down. I loved the back story of Jodi, but the more I read it the more I thought ‘no, this woman wouldn’t settle for Todd no matter how wonderful he was’ and I couldn’t believe in them having got together and having been that happy for so long as he really is that vile. I was also sad that actually this back story didn’t get built up, it’s all very vague and mysterious (which I know is part of building the mystery) yet it seemed a little ‘tacked on’ which leads me to the major issue I had with the book. The ending.

Without giving away any spoilers I have to say that I felt cheated. I had been sold something from the start that wasn’t the case at all. Whilst I could see the merits of this, and sorry if you haven’t read the book but should you choose to you will understand, as a double/triple/quadruple twist (there may be a red herring there) I get really cross when an author at the end of a thriller throws in an element that no one in their wildest dreams would guess. It’s fine if clues have been dropped and you get it wrong, that is part of the fun, yet here I felt cheated – yes it was possible but I didn’t feel the author was playing fair, she didn’t want us to get it and that to me spoils/spoilt the fun.

I don’t normally compare books as closely as I have this with Gillian Flynn, but because of all the chatter I couldn’t not. I feel bad being negative about some of the aspects of The Silent Wife as up to about 50 pages from the end I thought it was a rather good portrayal of a relationship imploding and indeed a well written and overall well paced thriller. Alas the ending just didn’t work for me and I didn’t buy the mega twists and I just felt a bit cross – I am clearly in the minority as all the authors I mentioned above loved it and Nicole Kidman is making the movie, so what do I know?!? It saddens me that Harrison will not write anymore; as at its best moments there is something very different about The Silent Wife that makes me think whatever followed would have possibly been incredible.

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Filed under A.S.A Harrison, Headline Review, Review