Tag Archives: Psychological Thriller

Death in Her Hands by Ottessa Moshfegh

Death in Her Hands by Ottessa Moshfegh Title: Death in Her Hands
Author: Ottessa Moshfegh
Publisher: Penguin Press
ISBN: 9781984879356
Genre: Psychological Thriller, Literary Fiction
Pages: 272
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

 

So, let me start by saying that while I may not have been taken in with the plot of the book half-way through, I love Moshfegh’s writing, which shines most brightly in her latest offering, “Death in Her Hands”. We have an unreliable narrator, a dog, an elderly widow whose life is turned upside down when she finds a strange note on walk in the woods.

The note says, “Her name was Magda. Nobody will ever know who killed her. It wasn’t me. Here is her dead body”. There is no dead body. There is nothing there. This sets the narrator – Vesta Gul, in a frenzy. She doesn’t know what to do and yet wants to do something about it. She just doesn’t know what. Obsessed with Magda and how she ended up dead, Gul builds her life in her head, including motives that led to her death.

“Death in Her Hands” is a fantastic read – because it is so different, even though it does tend to meander a little. Moshfegh’s writing is succinct and spot-on. The building of Magda by Vesta, and in turn two lives being portrayed – one by the other is a great way to introduce the unreliability of the narrator. Is Vesta thinking too much? Is she conjuring something so far-removed that maybe even she can’t believe it anymore? These questions and more kept tugging at my mind as I read further.

The book reads as a psychological thriller, and yet there is so much going on. The writing is literary and what I enjoyed the most was the detailing. From Gul’s house, to her life before she moves into a new town, to what Moshfegh wants to show us about small-town/village life and its day to day workings. “Death in Her Hands” is the perfect read for a weekend, the one that will have you turn the pages, and not stop till you’re done with it.

The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn

The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn Title: The Woman in the Window
Author: A.J. Finn
Publisher: William Morrow, HarperCollins
ISBN: 978-0062678416
Genre: Literary Fiction, Thriller
Pages: 448
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

I am not a fan of thrillers. I do not read them so often, however, I wanted to read “The Woman in the Window”. Although it would be shelved under thrillers or mystery, it is definitely more than that, according to me. It is extremely literary and not in the hard-kind-of-way-to-read literary. It is a very easy read but it keeps you engaged. Pages may not fly as they do when you read a thriller but let me also tell you that you have to immerse yourself in about one hundred and twenty pages or so till you get to the juicy parts and it is worth every turn of the page.

“The Woman in the Window” also has an unreliable narrator and I am for one not big on this form of writing, however, this might it seemed to work for me. Dr. Anna Fox is a psychologist (child psychologist) who peers through her camera at the neighbours in 212, stuck in her agoraphobic world in her very expensive apartment, estranged from her husband, Ed and young daughter Olivia. She also plays chess online and is a part of an online forum to help other agoraphobics. She goes by the ID thedoctorisin.

At the same time, Anna isn’t one of the most reliable people you know of (that’s why the unreliable narration). She drinks red wine and in copious quantities. She also overdoses her medication. Her psychiatrist Dr. Fielding, comes to check in one her once a week and all her time if not spent snooping in others’ lives, is spent watching old crime noir films. Till one fine day, Anna notices something happening in 212 and life is never the same.

A.J. Finn creates a sense of claustrophobia most of the time (guess it is intended) for his readers and that lends extremely well while reading the book. I often found myself looking over my shoulder to see if someone was around and most often just to breathe, as I thought I was out of breath. Having said that, the writing is light but not without being intelligent and witty (in some places).

The entire book almost feels like a Hitchcock film – you can almost visualize it and to add to that there are these references (and sometimes scenes as well) of the movies Anna loves to watch and watches when the action is going on. I loved the references! What I also liked about the writing is that A.J. Finn doesn’t spoon-feed you with the sub-plots or characters. It flows as the story ambles along. The pace I did have a problem with initially, but that sorted itself early on.

“The Woman in the Window” is a thriller that will make you fall in love with the way characters are sketched, plots are intertwined and unravel and the overall plot structure. A.J. Finn has created a book that is clever as it shows itself to you, page after page. A read not to be missed out this year.

 

Her by Harriet Lane

Her by Harriet Lane Title: Her
Author: Harriet Lane
Publisher: W & N
ISBN: 978-1780220024
Genre: Suspense, Thriller
Pages: 256
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

I had heard a lot about this book on various online forums and sites. I was quite excited as well to read it. I finally read and finished it today. The book is very well-written, that’s for sure, and it’s just that I was a bit disappointed by the twist in the tale. Having said that, I give it four stars only because of the writing and the atmosphere Harriet Lane has managed to conjure in her book “Her”.

“Her” is a story of two women – Nina and Emma. Both are almost of the same age and living in London. They come from two different worlds and lead two very different lives. While Nina is a successful artist, Emma is a housewife who feels mostly stifled being at home and taking care of her children. And yet when they meet, there is something that draws them to each other, something almost unexplainable. Till the reader understands that Nina is up to something while meeting Emma (well sort of understand, rather, the reader can only guess). Why is Nina interested in Emma? Why does she have this obsession which is so subtle and yet there?

The book is chilling. It is also quite an intriguing read. Lane’s writing is sharp and has a lot of detailing that only helps build the suspense. I loved how Emma’s housewife ennui is explained throughout and how Nina’s perspectives are portrayed. Both women’s stories unravel through their views of similar situations, told in alternating chapters.

My only grouse was the build-up to the end in the penultimate chapter. I just had a problem with that part. The ending however is so brilliant that it will leave you with your jaw dropping. This thriller is interwoven with the past and the present and explores human psychology with great casualty. It is quite shocking to see Nina’s character build and do the things that she does with such calm.

You must read this book for the plot, for the characterization, for the way the women are depicted, for the details and above all for a good chill running through your spine.

Book Review: The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud

The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud Title: The Woman Upstairs
Author: Claire Messud
Publisher: Knopf
ISBN: 978-0307596901
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 272
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I have always been fascinated by most women in literature. There is something beguiling about them and at the same time they seem to want to say it all. Whether it is a characterization of Lizzy Bennett or it is Madame Bovary, each woman is almost a world in her own sense. There are also women who are caught in circumstances beyond their understanding and will and sort of emerge with different shades of personalities.

There are women who are single and lonely and need that extra bit of life so to say, something which will complete them. This I noticed in the works of Muriel Spark more often than not and sometimes also when Iris Murdoch wrote of them. The point that I am trying to get to here is that literature is full of these fascinating characters, one of them I will add to my list, after reading, “The Woman Upstairs” by Claire Messud.

Claire Messud’s woman is Nora Elridge. Nora is forty-two years old, a teacher and fully enraged at life, when the novel begins. She wants more out of life and doesn’t know how to do it. She wants to get out of the rut and doesn’t know where to go. She wants children. She wants a life of her own. She doesn’t want to be the “woman upstairs” who is desperate and longs for more, as days pass, living in a house that has no one else but her in it.

At the same time, the novel jumps to five years ago, in 2004 when Nora meets the Shahid family and she begins to fall in love with each member of the family – Reza her third-grade student, Sirena the mother, and finally with Skandar – Sirena’s husband and Reza’s father. This goes on for a year, the one single year that changes Nora’s life. This in brief is the plot of the novel.

Now to the style of writing of the book. The plot is so well-layered that the mystery element of the book hits you unexpectedly and that to me is some great writing skill. The thin line between fiction and reality is explored brilliantly through this book and throughout it as well. Messud’s understanding of her characters and the lives they lead is beyond excellence, because she delivers with almost every single word and that is what matters when reading a great book. Anger at all levels is reflected in the book in a very subtle and sometimes quite apparently. At the same time, there is enough intellectual depth to the book, which takes it away from being just another psychological thriller. As a reader, I was always drawn to Nora while reading the book. What would she do? How would it affect her? Should she do this at all? When a reader gets so involved with the central character, he or she knows that the book has done its bit.

Nora almost speaks to everyone and it is also frightening given the way she lives her life. One doesn’t know what is beneath the surface, till it is either revealed or one is smart enough to catch on to the hints. You will love Nora and at times also hate her – that to me is a great sign of etching a character that everyone can or almost wants to relate with and yet maintain their distance. The ending is not tidy. Messud does not even tie up the loose ends. It is for the reader to decipher what could happen and what has. The psychological inferences are many and enhance the reading experience. The cultural inferences only add to those, making the novel richer by the turn of the page.

The book is profound, deep and at the same time touches on the concept of “living” like no other book I have read in recent times. If you are up to read something that will probably make you think a lot, then this book is for you.

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