Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

Only Child – Rhiannon Navin

Contemporary Fiction

This book reminded me a little of Room by Emma Donoghue as our narrator is a six year old child struggling to make sense of a terrifying event.

Zach is in a cupboard in the classroom with his teacher and classmates, through the door he can hear loud sounds and so despite having practised ‘lockdown’ events at school before he knows this isn’t a practice.

“Lockdown meant don’t go outside like for the fire alarm, but stay inside and out of sight.”

I have to admit I struggled, straight away, it never occurred to me, despite the rise of violence in schools, particularly in the US, that children practiced for these events in the same way we did the odd fire drill as children. There is no overt violence witnessed that day, or at least not by Zach who having described the noises from his hiding place, the obvious fear of the other little children and the smells as they waited for the all clear. Sadly there are some fatalities. It soon turns out one of them is Zach’s older brother Andy.

“I could pick whatever I wanted, she said, so I put in the dollar and pressed the button for Cheetos. That’s junk food, and most of the time it’s a no to junk food, but today was a no-rules day, remember?”

This was a hard book to read and not just for senselessness that we all feel when we hear about another school shooting. The hard part was witnessing the grief of this one family through a child’s eyes. The reason why is in part the reason why it was such a good idea to read this from a child’s perspective because children are more honest than adults.

“Yesterday we did all the things we do every Tuesday, because we didn’t know that today a gunman was going to come”

Andy had oppositional defiant disorder which in child’s terms meant he made his mother and father angry and sad a lot of the time, and he was mean to Zach and so at first from his childlike perspective maybe life at home will be easier without Zach?

“And I thought about how we didn’t know then that it was going to be the last normal day, or maybe we would have tried not to have all the same fighting we always have.”

Of course it isn’t like that, and as the grief drives Zach’s mother on to campaign for the shooter’s family to be held responsible for their actions, sadly in her mission to ensure they are punished, she seems to have overlooked Zach’s continuing trauma. Zach’s father returns to work and Zach is left to amuse himself which he does in touching and yet believable ways. Always important when you are reading from a child’s viewpoint. He is an appealing child, and the power in his character, as in the rest of the book, is that it is realistic. People don’t instantly turn into ‘angels’ when tragedy strikes, in fact they often do incomprehensible things, all completely understandable, but it is a brave author who shines the light on how this can play out for both the family involved, and the wider community.

This was a thoughtful book, it dealt far less with the initial crime than I expected and the authors insights and portrayal into ‘life after’ were hard-hitting and to an extent confront all sorts of emotions felt that can’t be easily expressed by adults as a different expectation is laid on those bereaved. I was completely tied into the story and ended the book with tears dripping off the end of my nose – this definitely belongs to that list of books whose characters I won’t forget in a hurry.

I’d like to thank the publishers Pan Mamillan for allowing me to read a copy of Only Child, This unbiased review is a thanks to them and the author for such a well-written, if emotional, story.

First Published UK: 8 Feb 2018
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
No of Pages: 352
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
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Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads

Three Days and a Life – Pierre Lemaitre

Crime Fiction

I was thrilled to see Pierre Lemaitre had written another standalone novel having vowed to read all of his back catalogue after being wowed by Blood Wedding, needless to say, that hasn’t come to fruition… yet, although all his books are on the wishlist after being even more wowed by Three Days and a Life.

The feel of this book is very different to Blood Wedding, for starters the main protagonist is a child, just twelve years old, and we go back to 1999 to discover the events that led up to the day Antoine accidentally kills his six-year-old neighbour, Rémi. A shocking event, in itself, made no less so by the brutal description of Rémi ’s pet dog which precedes the cold days just before Christmas. The scene is set beautifully in the small town of Beauval in France where Antoine lives with his mother. His father decamped to Germany and consequently he has a distant relationship with him. The crux of the story is that Antoine hides Rémi’s body and returns home to his loving mother and hides as much as possible from reality. He has a child’s view of the world, realistically depicted, and alternately buries his head in the sand and suffers the awful anxiety about his crime being discovered.

Pierre Lemaitre absolutely nails the small town view of the wider world. The people of Beauval collectively hope that Rémi was taken by someone out-of-town, it being far too awful to think that the act was one of their own. Although the pace is slower than some crime thrillers, the tension felt is built very quickly to fever-pitch with this reader see-sawing in hoping that poor Rémi’s mother would find out the truth about what happened and equally hoping that Antoine’s mother would be spared the self-same truth, this emotional push and pull is very hard to pull off, particularly when we have a child who is not displaying much in the way of guilt, although his the fear of discovery is acute.

After following the inhabitants of Beauval through the days following the death of Rémi we next meet Antoine twelve years later and see how the man views that day in hindsight. An interesting concept and one that again the author nailed. Where some of Antoine’s emotions and actions mirrored those he had aged just twelve, the author hadn’t just given the same voice and adult body we see something more of Antoine, not all of it particularly nice. In fact, I felt less sympathetic to him in this part than I had the younger version.

Three Days and a Life ends with a twist that has played on a loop inside my mind since I finished the book. I’m not one to usually draw on this aspect of a book in my review but I have this time because the twist doesn’t change anything read before but adds a whole other layer that made me want to pick the book straight up and start at the beginning again.

If you fancy some French Noir I offer up a fulsome recommendation for Three Days and a Life. Even more so because this book has been exceptionally well translated by Frank Wynne, so much so that I forgot at times that this wasn’t originally written in English allowing the nuance of the tale coming across as expertly as I’m sure it was in its native language.

I’d like to thank the publishers Quercus who allowed me to read Three Days and a Life which was published on 7 November 2017. This review is my unbiased thanks to them, Pierre Lemaitre for the fantastic storytelling and Frank Wynne who brilliantly translated this book into English.

First Published UK: 13 July 2017
Publisher: MacLehose Press 
No of Pages: 256
Genre: Crime Fiction
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