Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Sulari Gentill - The Woman in the Library

In every person's story, there is something to hide...
The ornate reading room at the Boston Public Library is quiet, until the tranquility is shattered by a woman's terrified scream. Security guards take charge immediately, instructing everyone inside to stay put until the threat is identified and contained. While they wait for the all-clear, four strangers, who'd happened to sit at the same table, pass the time in conversation and friendships are struck. Each has his or her own reasons for being in the reading room that morning—it just happens that one is a murderer.
Award-winning author Sulari Gentill delivers a sharply thrilling read with The Woman in the Library, an unexpectedly twisty literary adventure that examines the complicated nature of friendship and shows us that words can be the most treacherous weapons of all.

Comment: While talking to a friend, we decided this would be an interesting book to buddy read because it would have a mystery and it would feature thew world of books, two things we tend to enjoy reading about.

In this book we have the story of Australian writer Hannah and her correspondence with North American writer Leo. They started discussing their books and now Hannah sends chapters to Leo so he can advice on Americanisms she might be using wrongly, since her book is set in Boston. Hannah based this new story on a real life experience and the characters are very close to real people, being the narrator of Hannah's book Winifred, a young Australian woman who got a scholarship to be in the US. The book is the story of four strangers who happen to be at Boston Public Library when a scream is heard by everyone. The four bond over their close proximity and start discussing what could have happened, making them instantaneous friends... however, are they that close when one of them is actually a killer?

It might sound as if the plot is confusing, I know, and at times it did feel the author somehow mixed up too many things. I think the most obvious element I think could have been improved is how the graphic text was presented. We have the story told by "Winifred" and at the end of each chapter a comment by beta reader Leo, giving advice which gets more personal as the plot advances. I think I understand why this choice, it is supposed to create impact, especially since there is always some kind of surprise or suspense scene to finish each chapter, before Leo's reply.

However, this also breaks down the pace and while one could see it as positive, so the reader could process and think, for me it was too jarring for most chapters and I've started to be a little bored with the repetitive method, especially because we are kept in the dark for obvious reasons. I did like most of Leo's comments, for it is clear the author has picked up many tropes and tricks of writing and tried to use them in her novel. Some of those were used in a very obvious way, others in a bit more restrained manner but for readers used to different genres, the clues sometimes are impossible to ignore.

As for the fictional story within this story, I must say it was intriguing enough. Some elements were well done... I remember there were two or three chapters which ended in a very stressing way and not even Leo's comments brought me down from a certain sense of impending doom. The story of the four strangers becoming fast friends has its moments and I do think the main idea behind the whole things was quite clever and unique. I'm just not convinced by some of the paths chosen by the author to carry things into where she wanted them to go.

The strangers are Winifred, who is writing a book, Cain who is already a writer, Whit who is a law student and Marigold, a psychology major. They are all young - Cain being the older - and we are also given the feel Winifred and Cain might become a couple but of them all, Cain is the one with the most unknown past. As they go on about their lives after such a unique meeting, they discover the woman who had screamed was a journalism student and she was found dead. It seems, at first, that there wasn't any connection between any of the characters, but, of course, we start to learn it wasn't exactly so...

This is why I feel the book has a good base and had potential to be much better. The little things seem to be well thought and planned, but the execution... I confess I was surprised two or three times but as the plot comes an end, I feel the author used way too many clichés (perhaps on purpose, to better evidence some tropes and tactics in suspense books?) and the actual resolution of the story was probably the weakest element of all. It just didn't sound convincing since it relied on too many coincidental details.

The very last sentence is one I'm still thinking about, but not in a good way... what might be the purpose, considering it is meant to act as a shock scene but the whole story within the story wasn't solved well either. Basically, both the book written by Hannah and the one written by alter ego Winifred ended in a very rushed and irregular shape.

There were parts I liked, others weren't as appealing but I might try something else by the author one day, to compare.
Grade: 6/10

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