January 31, 2014 6:28 pm

‘The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells’; ‘The Girl with a Clock for a Heart’; ‘The Stone Boy’

The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells, by Andrew Sean Greer, Faber, RRP£14.99, 304 pages

 

Ravaged by her twin brother’s death from Aids and her partner’s desertion, Greta Wells falls into deepest depression, wishing to “live in any time but this one . . .  cursed with sorrow and death”. During electric shock treatment, her wish comes miraculously true and she wakes up to find that she and her family have been transplanted from New York, 1985, to other eras.

Moving between 1918, 1941 and her own time, Greta re-encounters the people she loves; the dead are brought back to life and subtly altered. She learns that she can change the ending of her own story, as “the impossible happens once to each of us”.

Andrew Sean Greer’s sweet, polished prose illuminates the vintage New York scenes. But the differences between characters in their various incarnations can seem trivial, while Greta’s insistence that her gay brother publicly acknowledge his sexuality in each era seems anachronistic. This is a novel that fails to fully tease out the potential of its premise.

Review by Judith Evans

. . .

The Girl with a Clock for a Heart, by Peter Swanson, Faber, RRP£12.99, 304 pages

 

This may sound like a catchpenny grab for the Stieg Larsson market but this involving thriller is nothing like the work of the late Swedish writer. In a Boston bar, business manager George Foss spots Liana, a college girlfriend he hasn’t seen for 20 years. His involvement with her had left him with romantic scars and a part in a murder investigation.

But Liana returns to lead him deeper into trouble. She is on the run, and inveigles the hapless George into acting as a courier to return the $500,000 she took from a former lover. Needless to say, it all goes wrong (as anyone who’s seen such yuppies-in-peril films as Something Wild will anticipate). The story runs across two timelines – their college love affair, and the more dangerous present; both are handled with authority but the present-day segments are inevitably more compelling. Liana is a touch under-developed as a character but the labyrinthine plot here has a grip of high-tensile steel.

Review by Barry Forshaw

. . .

The Stone Boy, by Sophie Loubière, translated by Nora Mahony, Trapdoor, RRP£7.99, 384 pages

 

On the evidence of this atmospheric and complex thriller, France is shaping up as a font of impressive new crime writers specialising in unorthodox and genuinely unsettling narratives.

Ageing widow Madame Préau has returned to her house after a period of convalescence, where she soon becomes convinced that one of her neighbour’s three children is suffering serious neglect. But her attempts to intervene on behalf of the child are stymied by one inconvenient fact: nobody believes that this abused youngster actually exists.

The elderly heroine’s relentless probing into these outwardly conventional lives takes the reader into truly stygian psychological territory – not unlike that of Ruth Rendell. This novel, awarded the Prix Lion Noir, even takes on such notions as the uncertain nature of reality. It demonstrates that with such writers as Loubière, Fred Vargas and Pierre Lemaitre, French noir is in the ascendant.

Review by BF

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