Disclaimer by Renee Knight

If you loved The Girl on the Train you’ll love this…

 

Those of you that have read my last two reviews might wonder why I picked up a copy of Disclaimer by Renee Knight since it was emblazoned with a sticker recommending it to fans of Girl on a Train, since I am anything but.

(If you haven’t read my Girl on a Train review you can find it here. In short, it’s ok, but over-hyped)

I’ve actually had Disclaimer in my sights for a while now since Claudia Winkleman recommended it a few months ago. It was the premise of the book that sold it to me.

Imagine reading a novel and discovering that the story is actually about you. A story from your past that threatens to destroy the present and predicts your horrific death, pushed from a bustling underground platform.

That completely sold it to me, but it took me a while to getting a copy. When I finally got hold of one, I started it with a little trepidation. A book with a premise that really appealed to me, but pitched at fans of a book that I didn’t enjoy made me nervous. Would it live up to my expectations? Would I go into the book expecting not to enjoy it?

The story is told alternately by Catherine – our main character who discovers her life in a book – and by Stephen, a retired teacher whose wife Nancy has recently died.

The interesting thing about this book is that Stephen’s sections are told in the first person, and Catherine’s are told in the third person. As such, we never really know what Catherine is thinking and she remains distant to the reader, whereas we know everything that Stephen knows, he’s not hiding anything from us.

It means we empathise with Stephen immediately, while our sympathy for Catherine is stalled by what is perceived by us to be her coldness.

I completely understand why it’s been written in this way, over the course of the book it causes us to re-evaluate what we think of the two characters, but I do think it detracts from the fear that Catherine feels. We’re never truly inside her head, never really experiencing the fear that she is, while we do feel the grief that Stephen feels.

There’s one section where Catherine is on the underground waiting to catch a train and she starts to fear being pushed under an oncoming train (the ending of the book about her) – which is tense, but could be so much more if told purely from her point of view.

I think that’s my one criticism of this book – the choice of structuring it this way is a trick to make us take sides, to make sure we don’t learn the truth of what happened too soon.

But it stops us from really connecting with someone whose life is in danger. For me, it slightly takes away from the urgency.

I’m not saying that both parts should have been written in the first person, or both in the third – but the contrast between the two styles in this book is purposefully designed to stop us knowing Catherine too much, but the trouble is, it stops us from caring too much as well.

It’s a small criticism – I wanted more from that one scene, I wanted a heightened sense of danger – but other than that, it’s a great book. It’s much better than Girl on a Train, and has an ending that ties up all the characters into a place where we feel sorry for them all. None of them are bad, none of them are good, they’re all human, and they’ve made mistakes.

Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll

This girl is not on a train, nor is she gone. She is the Luckiest Girl Alive

After reading Girl on the Train and lamenting the death of the domestic noir genre, I immediately started reading another one.

The Luckiest Girl Alive instantly grabs the reader’s attention with the striking cover, and within the first two pages it attacks with a bite that Girl on the Train simply didn’t have.

We are presented with Ani, the main character, choosing her wedding list, and she is contemplating taking the knife she is looking at and sliding it into her husband-to-be’s gut.

Immediately, there is a sense of tension, of danger, that Girl on the Train lacked. A few pages later and it becomes clear that Ani is not a particularly likeable character, but she doesn’t come across as unreliable.

The book alternates between Ani in her late twenties and Ani – then known as TifAni in her – as a fourteen year old and transferring to a new school.

It is clear that something horrific has happened at the school, specifically something horrific happened to Ani at the school, but it is not immediately revealed. What is clear from the beginning is that whatever it was had a big impact on Ani.

Fourteen year old TifAni is not the same as grown-up Ani, and it is finding out exactly what changed her that keeps the pages turning in this thriller.

Ani isn’t a particularly nice person and it is hard to side with her, or relate to her inner conflict about whether to marry Luke or not – I found myself not caring whether she did or not, but the ending is the ending that Ani deserves, and does give some hope that she might become a likeable character.

That is what this genre is seemingly all about – if the benchmark is Gone Girl, a novel which presents us with a host of unlikeable characters, that we are fascinated by, then the writer above all else needs to concentrate on that.

Perhaps that was the problem with Girl on a Train. While I didn’t particularly like the main character, I did pity her, and she was very much the victim. Ani, on the other hand actually IS a victim, but there’s not much time for pitying her.

I still think the domestic noir genre has peaked and will settle down into just another strand of thrillers. Before that happens, though, we will get a whole avalanche of Luckiest Gone Girl Alive on a Train type books. Luckiest Girl Alive deserves to stand out as one of the better examples.