A(nother) Review: The Fact of a Body by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich

It’s lunchtime on a Sunday as I write this. That is where this blog post begins.

 

Except for you, it’s at least 2pm on Thursday, likely later than that, so maybe that’s where this blog post begins?

 

Or perhaps it started when a colleague – let’s call her Ginger Spice (again) – handed me a copy of The Fact of a Body by Alexandra Marzano-Lesnevich. Or when she first told me how great it was…

 

I could go on. And that’s the point.

 

The Fact of a Body is the true story of Marzano-Lesnevich’s mission to understand why Ricky Langley’s case struck a chord with her to the point that she couldn’t not investigate it.

 

Langley has been tried and convicted of killing six year old Jeremy Guillory and Marzano-Lesnevich first comes across him, when interning for a legal firm specializing in death-row appeals, she sees a video of Langley’s confession.

 

For her, that is where her story begins, but as she says herself, it also started elsewhere, some many years ago. Something that Marzano-Lesnevichrefers to herself in the introduction to the book, when she talks about an American legal case – Palsgraf v Long Island Railroad Co. The Palsgraf case is used to illustrate proximate cause.

 

Proximate cause refers to the start of a chain of events – which as we begin to discover, can sometimes be traced further and further back. The question becomes… when do you start that chain of events.

 

At first, I was expecting a legal investigation into Langley’s case, something along the lines of the podcast Serial, so I was slightly surprised when Marzano-Lesnevich started talking about her own childhood.

 

As we move through the book though, it becomes clear, this isn’t your typical straightforward exploration of a legal case. It’s a personal journey for the author, exploring what happened to her, at the same time, exploring why Langley did what he did.

 

I’m not sure what I think of this book. It’s page-turning, fascinating and structured in a way that more information is revealed as you go along – it’s never boring.

 

The Langley case is heartbreaking, and so thought provoking. The author does a good job of balancing both sides carefully. What Langley did to Jeremy is monstrous, but we learn more about Langley’s family history which in itself is inherently sad.

 

Where this doesn’t quite work for me is the author’s personal story. Horrible things occurred to her, but barring one or two times, I failed to connect to her emotionally.

 

The story was almost split three ways – Langley and his crime, young Alexandria and the crime that happened to her, and the older version of her who dominated much of the book. For me, it took too long for the relevance of all three parts to truly connect.

 

Having said that, I would definitely recommend this book – though it probably ought to come with a trigger warning.

 

This is the end of my review (Or is it?)

 

 

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A(nother) Rambling: Fear by Dirk Kurbjuweit #GrippedByFear

Never judge a book by it’s cover.

 

I’ve probably started a blog post with that phrase before. Over the last couple of years, I feel I’ve covered every last literary cliché in the book (that there might have been the last one), but bear with me. After all, like books, you shouldn’t judge a book by it’s cover.

 

Having said that, in my job you do have to judge a book by it’s cover, sometimes that’s all there’s time for. I personally get around 200 books pass across my desk a year that pique my interest. At the rate of one a week, I can only actually read a quarter of those.

 

I have to use something to tell them apart. Often, it is the recommendation of someone I trust, someone who knows my reading style.

 

Sometimes, it’s the cover.

 

In the case of Fear by Dirk Kurbjuweit, it was a little of both.

 

Posted by a colleague (who reads this blog and will get a kick out of seeing her name, therefore I won’t mention it… let’s just call her “Ginger Spice”), the back cover which simply promises ‘Become an accessory to murder’ – pulled me in, coupled with, what is a striking, unique cover.

 

Ginger Spice usually has the same taste in books as me, so I went with it and managed to get hold of a copy.

 

Sitting down to read it, and it wasn’t what I thought it would be. I was expecting a pacy thriller, maybe a psychological thriller that became commonplace after Girl on the Train was released.

 

At the very beginning we know that our ‘hero’ has assisted in the murder of his neighbour. His father shot him. We even know the motive.

 

This is something Ginger Spice pointed out to me – there seems to be no mystery, no reason to read on, and yet… we do. This book is compelling. The hashtag the publicists are using is #GrippedByFear

 

I agree with the first part, gripped. As we explore Randolph’s history with his father, his family… with Dieter, their downstairs neighbour. There’s something here pulling us on. Just what was it that finally pushed Randolph over the edge to contract his father to kill.

 

I’m not sure ‘Fear’ is the right word, though. The book is translated from German, and I can’t help but wonder if it was originally one of those German words that doesn’t have a direct English translation.

 

Sure, there is an element of fear that Randolph experiences, both as a young boy in the presence of his father, and for his young family. But it’s not something the reader experiences.

 

The bad guy is dead at the beginning of the book, there’s no fear that he will win, because we know that he doesn’t. Whatever he does do, it doesn’t lead to the total destruction of Randolph’s life.

 

So, what is the feeling the reader is left with?

 

That famous German word for which there’s no direct translation – Schadenfreude – the feeling of pleasure when some misfortune befalls someone else, it’s not that. But maybe it’s something similar?

 

Some kind of pre-schadenfreude. The anticipation of something bad happening to someone else? The idea that Dieter is going to earn his comeuppance that we’ve been promised in the opening pages.

 

As I said at the beginning, you shouldn’t judge a book by it’s cover – or it’s title, or even it’s hashtag – sometimes it delivers more than it promises. Having said that Fear is a better title than Pre-schadenfreude.

 

Fear will be published by Orion in January 2018 (Sorry – perk of the job… look out for it then, it will make a wonderful January read!)