A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.
Ruth Bussey knows what it means to be in the wrong and to be wronged. She once did something she regrets, and her punishment nearly destroyed her. Now Ruth is rebuilding her life, and has found a love she doesn’t believe she deserves: Aidan Seed. Aidan is also troubled by a past he hates to talk about, until one day he decides he must confide in Ruth. He tells her that years ago he killed someone: a woman called Mary Trelease. Ruth is confused. She’s certain she’s heard the name before, and when she realises why it sounds familiar, her fear and confusion deepen – because the Mary Trelease that Ruth knows is very much alive …
Sadly, this particular book didn’t quite hit the mark for me and, like poor Ruth, I was for the majority of the time left floundering and deeply confused. That said, I loved the beginning which pitches us instantly into the scene where Aidan confesses to Ruth what he believes he’s done. It has the trademark Hannah tension I’ve come to admire.
The problems occur after that chapter. The tension is so drawn-out and reiterated in different guises that it began, I’m afraid, to get dull. There’s an awful lot of padding which needed a good editor to prune it. I did understand there were many very complex strands to the plot including: the shocking truth of what happened to Ruth; the misunderstandings inherent in her relationship with Aidan; Aidan himself; and the very strange history of the relationship between Charlie (female) and Simon, the two police officers investigating the situation. But these strands needed to be handled with a lot more clarity and sense of purpose than is evident here. I did wonder on one or two (possibly more) occasions whether in fact the author had popped out for a while but the keyboard had mysteriously continued to churn out words and ever more peculiar plot links in her absence. Which she unaccountably failed to deal with when she got back.
In the end, what I got out of the book was the fact everything was a muddle for everybody and nobody seemed to know what was going on. Though, much to my pride, I did manage to work out the mystery rather too long before we reached the final pages. And a sense of general muddle was really my position once I’d reached the end. Yes, there’s something about art, who painted what and why, and why a particular artist committed suicide, or if she was murdered. It’s all very meaningful (I think) and no doubt worthy but, to be honest I couldn’t make head or tail of it, and I certainly couldn’t begin to explain it to anyone now.
In addition, the other huge strand of the novel which is the difficult relationship between Charlie and Simon has a great deal of potential to it – and, from memory, I’m sure they’ve turned up in earlier books and been very interesting – but here they keep going over the same ground and it becomes tedious. There’s no emotional development between them so it frustrated me to see how the position between the two of them is the same at the end as at the start. In fact there’s more fizz between Charlie and her sister Liv, and I loved some of their bitchy but loving exchanges.
On the good side, the relationship between Aidan and Ruth definitely develops, sometimes for the worse and sometimes for the better. I did very much enjoy where they ended up – that was a nice move. I would have loved to have had more from Aidan’s viewpoint also as he’s a fascinating character, but it wasn’t to be, sadly. Oh and I also really loved Saul, Ruth’s former employer. He was a sweetie and a gent, and how I longed for more of him too.
I also must say how very well-written indeed is the scene where we find out exactly what happened to Ruth and how it made her who she is now. It’s a shocking and violent crime (Jackie – please be warned …) and it did make me feel ill. Such here was the power of the writing and I could have done with more of this sort of prose in the less violent moments too, and without the feeling of nausea pressing on my chest.
In the end, however, this novel doesn’t show Hannah anywhere near her best and I hope future books I may well read will at least have a far sharper editor to do them justice.
The Other Half Lives, Hodder 2009, ISBN 978-0340 93315 2
Also available as an ebook