This book was a selection for The Books, Babes and Bordeaux book club, and while I had little knowledge of this book beforehand, I was eager to read it after hearing the brief summary on the jacket of the book. It was an odd tale from the beginning, and as the book rocked forward, it became almost like a surreal and strange nightmare from which I couldn’t seem to disentangle myself. Though ostensibly this was a book about a kidnapping, it quickly began to morph into a book about control, internal conflict and strange proclivities. Despite the problems that I ended up having with it, I felt that Hannah was really at the top of her game when it comes to the psychological suspense that she so liberally uses to spice up her plot.
Though I’m sure Alice wouldn’t agree with the assessment of her as a person inflicted with damaged self-esteem, it was clear that this was most definitely the case. As an adult orphan, Alice has come to rely upon, and even to crave and depend upon, the benevolent behavior of her very controlling mother-in law. The ever-present Vivianne has taken the liberty of managing every aspect of Alice and David’s lives, and also the lives of her grandchildren, the new baby Florence, and the young Felix, David’s son from a previous marriage. The newly married couple live exclusively in Vivianne’s mansion, where she not only controls their movements but their minds and activities as well. It was strange to read about a woman who had so completely engulfed the wills of those around her, and as the story progressed, I began to see that Vivianne was harboring some malicious intentions of her own, which she would see through to the end. I can’t say that I recognized these things immediately because there was such a polished layer of veneer over Vivianne and her actions, but as I grew to understand what she was capable of, I grew more and more frightened of her.
One of the things that I found most interesting was the changing relationship between Alice and David. Though Alice makes several excuses for David’s coldness and emotional unavailability, it became apparent that there was something drastically wrong with him once the baby went missing. I wondered to myself just what Alice was thinking when she agreed to marry this man, and wondered if he had somehow tricked her into believing that he was a different kind of person altogether. At times he was frighteningly brutal and calculating, and one of the things that I felt wasn’t addressed fully was why this behavior was coming out of him in these tense moments. Hannah gives a brief explanation, but to my sensibilities, it didn’t seem all that realistic or plausible. David’s strange behavior provided most of the drama and tension in the storyline. Creepily cunning and perversely bent, David, I feel, was the true villain in this tale, though others would probably say otherwise. During these sections of the book, it was an effort to tear myself away from the page because David’s actions seemed so far out in left field and so undeniably aggressive.
Alice was also a puzzling conundrum by the close of this book. I had the feeling that she was a lot more manipulative than I had first realized, and there was at least one section where I felt that Hannah had broken trust with me as a reader and let the machinations of her story become somewhat unbelievable and uninspiring. Though this didn’t happen until the very end, it made me doubt the author and made me wonder what kinds of concessions she had made to further her agenda of a suspenseful plot. While I did admire most of this book, the ending felt too meticulously engineered, and there were times when this strategy of an unreliable narrator made me want to throw the book against the wall. I spoke about this to my husband and related the whole plot to him, in addition to my problems with it. He actually felt very differently than I did and appreciated the subtle nuances of how the story ended. Unreliable narrators usually make or break a book for me, and in this case I didn’t fully appreciate the trick that Hannah played on her audience.
Though I had issues with the conclusion, I was able to appreciate what Hannah had created overall and thought that all the requirements of a great psychological mystery had been fully met. In fact, had it not have been for the ungainly and sloppy ending, it might have become one of the contenders for a favorite. As it was, I just couldn’t get in line with Hannah’s final twist, and that had lasting repercussions on what I felt for the entire narrative. It was a very involving and interesting read, but it wasn’t completely pulled off without a hitch.