Thomson’s Ghost Girl (UK), Carrère’s The Adversary (France), The Handmaid’s Tale (Canada/US)

My TBR pile is well and truly out of control at the moment, so I’m going to have a reading blitz over the summer to reduce it as much as I can. My approach will be threefold: ruthlessly cull the books that don’t appeal to me (life is too short), read exactly the books I want to from the pile that is left, and write up a variety of short reviews for the blog. And, as is the case this week, I might add in the odd TV series or other random delight from time to time.

Lesley Thomson, Ghost Girl (Head of Zeus, 2014)

Opening line: ‘In the pale light the girl might be a ghost risen from one of the graves’.

I really liked the first in Thomson’s series, The Detective’s Daughter. It took me a little while to get into this second novel: slightly more signposting was needed at the beginning to help readers navigate the two timelines. However, I remained captivated by the character of Stella Darnell, the police detective’s daughter who picks up his unsolved cases after his death. Stella runs a cleaning agency and is more like her father than she would care to admit – her drive to restore order makes her a very tenacious and thorough investigator. In this case, a set of photos in her father’s cellar showing deserted London streets puts Stella on the trail of a murderer. Her investigative partner Jack Harmon is equally intriguing – a night-time tube driver whose life, in contrast to Stella’s, is governed by signs and intuition rather than rationality. Both are social misfits, but together they make a great team. Another strength of both books is Thomson’s depiction of the inner life of children and how they try to make sense of traumatic situations.

Emmanuel Carrère, The Adversary: A True Story of Monstrous Deception, translated from French by Linda Coverdale (Vintage, 7 July 2017 [2000]).

Opening line: ‘On the Saturday morning of January 9, 1993, while Jean-Claude Romand was killing his wife and children, I was with mine in a parent-teacher meeting at the school attended by Gabriel, our eldest son’.

Emmanuel Carrère is a well-known writer, who here dissects a highly disturbing true crime: Jean-Claude Romand’s murder of his wife, two children and elderly parents in 1993. The book is both an archaeological excavation of the events leading up to the murders and the multiple deceptions Romand wove over twenty years. While to his family and the outward world he appeared to be a respectable, well-to-do doctor working for the World Health Organisation, in reality he was nothing of the sort. Carrère effectively explores how Romand deceived and betrayed his family, and the ways in which his lies corroded his own identity, creating a terrifying void. Hard-hitting and thoughtful, but avoiding sensationalism, Carrère makes no excuses for the murderer’s mythomania and his attempts to escape the consequences of his crimes. A fascinating, but utterly chilling read.

The Handmaid’s Tale (Hulu/Channel 4), adapted from Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale (Vintage, 1996 [1985])

American viewers are ahead of us here in the UK, where the highly anticipated TV adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale began to air last Sunday. The novel, of course, is not crime fiction, but ‘speculative’ fiction that portrays a theocratic America of the near future, and famously draws on a range of repressive historical examples (from seventeenth-century Puritan America to twentieth-century regimes such as Nazi Germany and Ceaușescu’s Romania). But the themes of crime and criminality are at the very heart of the novel: how totalitarian/ultra-religious states criminalise any form of dissent, and how in particular they police women’s behaviour, driving them out of the public sphere and back into a private space where their identity, sexuality and bodies are heavily controlled. In the process, of course, the state itself becomes criminal, because it is denying its citizens the most basic of rights. The novel has long been on my ‘most influential books of all time’ list, and the TV opener did a brilliant job of bringing its dystopian vision to life. Elisabeth Moss is outstanding as the narrator and central protagonist, Offred.

Here’s a wonderful recent essay on the novel by Margaret Atwood for the New York Times: ‘Margaret Atwood on What ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ means in the Age of Trump’.

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27 thoughts on “Thomson’s Ghost Girl (UK), Carrère’s The Adversary (France), The Handmaid’s Tale (Canada/US)

  1. I like your idea of a really targeted approach to the TBR, Mrs. P. As you say, life’s too short to spend time reading what doesn’t appeal at all. And I’ll be quite interested in what you think of the TV version of The Handmaid’s Tale.

    • Thanks, Margot. Something’s got to be done about that TBR. Reaching critical levels…! Have you been watching The Handmaid’s Tale? I think you’re much further along than us.

  2. Kindles make it far too easy for TBR virtual stacks to get out of control … I could spend the next few years just reading what I have on my Paperwhite.

    And now I’ll have to get _Ghost Girl_. And I do need to watch _The Handmaid’s Tale_.

    • Ha! I’m not even counting my virtual TBR pile. I’m typing in a room that’s pretty much been taken over by books.

      Hope you enjoy the Thomson. Have you read The Detective’s Daughter? Would recommend starting there if not. I really like the author’s rather unusual view of the world and her sympathy for those who aren’t deemed to ‘fit in’.

      • Yes, I read The Detective’s Daughter some time ago, on your recommendation, and enjoyed it very much.

        Regarding books: A couple of years ago I moved house from the UK to the US, and was forced to eliminate most of my physical book collection, keeping only the volumes that I enjoyed most having on the shelf. I’m frequently reminded of one of my favourite scenes from Star Trek, in which Kirk, facing court-martial, encounters his attorney in his quarters, which have been filled to overflowing with books:-

        KIRK: What’s all this?
        COGLEY: I figure we’ll be spending some time together, so I moved in.
        KIRK: I hope I’m not crowding you.
        COGLEY: What’s the matter? Don’t you like books?
        KIRK: Oh, I like them fine, but a computer takes less space.

      • I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with my physical books – I resent them a bit when there’s overcrowding, but prefer to have a physical copy in my hands when reading. A house without books (physical or virtual) just wouldn’t feel like a proper home.

      • Oh, I agree. That’s why I keep a few. I just no longer have the overwhelming library I used to have. And having just cleared out my late father’s den, which contained at least five vanloads of books — in one room! — I think I made the right choice.

      • Five vans of books from just one room? That’s amazing. Your dad must have been a voracious reader and collector of books.

        It must have been an interesting/tricky process deciding which ones to keep.

      • I’m afraid he was a bit of a hoarder. And, yes, it was tricky, but, ultimately, it came down to keeping a few interesting volumes and giving the rest away to folks who could make some use of them. A bit sad, really.

      • Hopefully they will be treasured or find a new owner for whom they are meaningful down the road.

  3. Pingback: Thomson’s Ghost Girl (UK), Carrère’s The Adversary (France), The Handmaid’s Tale (Canada/US) | picardykatt's Blog

  4. Good.list. Have to find The Detective’s Daughter. I can’t bring myself to read The Handmaid’s Tale. I hate reading about women’s oppression, and give what’s going on here with Misogynist-in-Chief in the White House, and with the danger of 55 million women losing contraceptive insurance coverage, plus so many other rights under attack, I don’t think I can read that book now.
    Reality is getting too close to the fiction. But sales of that book are soaring over here.

    • That’s very understandable, kathy d. Some reading experiences just feel too close to the bone. But I’m glad to hear that sales are soaring – it would be great for the novel to reach a new generation of readers.

      I hope you manage to find a copy of The Detective’s Daughter at some point. It has a rather English quirkiness, and I’ll be interested to hear your views on it.

  5. Morning Mrs P. I’ve just given myself a bit of a shock, and had a quick count of the books TBR on my Kindle. 72 😬! Plus a dozen or so actual books that aren’t available on Kindle, plus I don’t know how many on pre-order. The Detective’s Daughter is one on the TBR list somewhere, and I will get to it eventually. I should cull some of them but choosing which, is an impossibility.
    The Handmaid’s Tale I’m afraid doesn’t appeal to me, but I like the sound of The Adversary though. So it maybe 73 by the end of the day……

    • 72 ebooks calls for a round of applause! Impressive! On the up side, a voluminous TBR pile does offer us plenty of choice.

      Status report: I’ve managed to cull one book today, after reading the first 40 pages. I’ve decided if it doesn’t grab me by then, it’s adios amigo.

      The Adversary is quite a short read, but packs a lot into its pages. Quite an extraordinary case…

      • I thank you! Being of a certain vintage and retired, I can read all day long if I feel like it. Crime, history books, auto and biographies, my source of enjoyment is endless. The only problem with a kindle is that is needs recharging, usually at the most inopportune moments 😠…..

  6. Here’s another one for you to read ‘Defectors ‘ the New one by Joseph Kanon, quite superb.The Cold War always makes the best spy stories! He really is one of the best. Good luck with the rest! What did you think of the last series of Hinterland? Very powerful last episode.

    • Thanks for the recommendation, Brian! I haven’t read any Kanon novels for a while, but always enjoy them when I do.

      I haven’t managed to finish Hinterland yet, because I’ve been doing so much moderating and Krimi reading in the last few weeks – but it’s on my list. Must catch up!

  7. I’m getting physical twinges just thinking about “The Handmaid’s Tale” — either that or the start of an anxiety attack. I read an excellent article about the TV series in the NY Times. I may have to see it anyway. But I’ll wait and see.
    Yes, over here, women may be without reproductive rights, contraceptive coverage under insurance, the right to choose or maternity care if the current White House resident and his cronies have their way.
    However, the women’s movement is moving so this is not going unprotested.

    • Morning kathyd. If you’re getting that kind of physical reaction then I’d stay well away from The Handmaid’s Tale for now… Lots of good strong women’s voices in the States right now. I hope very much they’ll prevail x

  8. Pingback: Koutsakis’ Athenian Blues (Greece), Stanley’s A Death in the Family (Botswana), Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 (USA) | Mrs. Peabody Investigates

  9. Thank you for the support. I’d like to see a million women in Washington, a repeat of the Jan. 21 Women’s March.

  10. Pingback: Mina’s The Long Drop (Scotland), Broadribb’s Deep Down Dead (UK/USA), le Carré’s The Pigeon Tunnel (UK/world) | Mrs. Peabody Investigates

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