“Oh what a tangled web we weave…when first we practice to deceive.” ~Walter Scott, “Marmion.”
Here in our small Vermont village we accept each other at face value. Townsfolk know the family trees of residents who’ve lived here for generations, those who move here to work and raise families – sometimes referred to as “flatlanders” – are accepted for whom they purport to be. We greet each other with a friendly wave in the local general store or talk about kids growing up fast while waiting at the circulation desk at the library, secure in the knowledge they we’re leading our lives alongside people who are what they say they are, or are who we think they are.
But this past week, amidst the snowstorms of early January, we found ourselves tangled up in books that rocked our comfortable assumptions a bit. The female protagonists in these two engrossing reads were leading normal lives, one in a contemporary English town, the other in a 1975 Paris, when suddenly they picked up clues that their realities weren’t at all what they appeared.
The literary deception and confusion was just enough so that when we picked up our heads and emerged from the reading webs we’d woven by the wood stove and took a trip to our friendly general store, our neighbors – and even ourselves – looked just a little off kilter, just a little less familiar, even if only for the blink of a spider’s eye.
The Other Woman’s House by Sophie Hannah (2012). Another great psychological thriller emerges from the British Isles to join the ranks of those written by Ireland’s Tana French and England’s Rosamund Lupton. One night Connie Bowskill is having trouble sleeping and decides to go to the computer to take a virtual tour of a house that is the object of her obsession. What she sees on-screen, in addition to the kitchen and dining room, is a dead body in the den lying face down in a pool of blood. (Sound like a game of Clue? Well, hang on to your hats and see if you can solve it.) When she returns moments later with her husband to show him this gruesome image, it has disappeared. The story then leads the reader into the confusing maze that is Connie’s life to try to determine why things seem so disorienting. This is the sixth book written by Sophie Hannah – though the first we have read and reviewed on The Book Jam – that features the detectives Zailer and Waterhouse. If you haven’t read the previous stories, their relationships might be a tad bit confusing. Nevertheless, this is a mystery worth reading for a mind bending trip to answer the questions “Is Connie Bowskill crazy?” and “What really happened in that house?” ~Lisa Cadow
The Confidant by Helene Gremillon (2012). Set in Paris in 1975 but exploring the events in a small French town at the onset of World War II, this is an excellent piece of historical literary fiction that reads like a psychological thriller. When Camille’s mother dies in an accident, condolence letters start pouring in. One, however, arrives from a man named Louis written on thick white paper, smelling slightly of tea, and is seemingly misaddressed, as Camille doesn’t know anyone by that name. This letter, and the ones that follow faithfully each week in installments, tells the story of Louis and Annie’s intense first love and the complicated relationships and tragedies that surround it. But why is someone sharing it with Camille? What is the connection to her life and family? “The Confidant” was a bestseller in France in 2010 and was translated by Alison Anderson, the same woman who masterfully delivered readers “The Elegance of the Hedgehog”. ~Lisa Cadow