Vulpes Libris

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.

Chosen by Lesley Glaister

The story of a young woman, Dodie, who goes searching for her brother who has apparently joined a religious cult, Chosen is probably what you call a psychological thriller on a very promising theme.

The beginning section is masterly and full of wonderful observation and detail. Dodie’s relationship with her mother immediately sets up a sense of dislocation and mystery. Stella has a history of depression and there is a questionmark hanging over her strained relationship with her daughter. She is strangely distant. Is there any love there? Why are they disconnected? When Dodie goes around to visit in order to try and find out why her beloved brother, Seth, has not turned up for his babysitting appointment, she finds her mother as peculiar as ever, thin as a bone and wearing a strange long velvet dress. As usual, she itches to get away as fast as possible. What happens next sets the novel in motion and we eventually end up in America in the world of religious cults.

The world of Dodie and Stella at the beginning of the world is wonderful. Stella is a fascinating unconventional character. Why is she so remote from her daughter? What has gone wrong? The details of their worlds, their lives and the mystery of their interactions fascinated me and I wanted more.

Unfortunately this relationship, despite being so seminal, is not really the focus of the book, which takes us off to more unfamiliar climes and it was here that the world and characters seemed less successful.

This is my first Lesley Glaister, I gather from some of the (mainly positive) reviews of this book online that this is not necessarily the best place to start.

Is it a page-turner? Yes. Do you want to know what happens? Yes. But is the journey as absorbing in itself and is the destination worth it?

This book is a page-turner, but this is part of the problem.  We want to know what happens, yes, but, although a good idea and theme, this book felt like too thin a plot stretched over too many pages. I was turning the pages to get to the next exciting bit. And this was the problem. I felt like the question itself overtook the book and the immediate happenings and the characters themselves were not quite interesting enough to stand up to the tension created by the mystery itself. And strangely, despite the undeniable ratcheting tension, I started to get a bit bored.

This is a problem I can find with thrillers. Great idea, great question…but we aren’t given enough as we go through to keep us wanting to read the pages in front of us rather than flick forward to the end.

It is a tough ask to make the increasing control over an individual dramatic.  I can’t help but feel that this might have been better as a different – more character-led – story. Where the relationship between Dodie and Stella had the potential to be fascinating, the relationship between Dodie and the cult members was predictable and travelled in a very straight line. Even Dodie’s relationship with her partner Rod and her obsession with her small child, couldn’t compete with the dynamic that had been set up with Stella. Ultimately, there was perhaps not enough character development for Dodie to carry her through.

Similarly, although the idea and the setting of the cult world was a good one, I was not convinced that the book really had a lot to offer on the subject itself. Motivations unravel disappointingly to become little more than those who are vulnerable, at vulnerable times in their lives, or generally unloved – are vulnerable to cults. This seems too easy to be revealing and was an opportunity lost.

Reading around online, I get the impression that some of her Glaister’s other works may be more in line with the beginning of this book – which certainly  had me hooked. So, perhaps I will try out some of her earlier books to see if they offer more of what was promised, but not quite delivered, in Chosen.

As for Chosen itself, it is a book of real strengths and thematic promise, but these elements felt sacrificed to the genre. More character, observation and exploration of difficult relationships and less thriller and device might have made for a more satisfying book that had the reader turning the pages slower because they were enjoying the journey as much as the destination.

352 pages, published by Tindal Street (1 May 2010), ISBN-13: 978-1906994051

One comment on “Chosen by Lesley Glaister

  1. Jackie
    March 15, 2013

    Hmm, this seems like a good idea for a book, cults aren’t that common in novels, but I can see your frustration with the lack of character development. And it doesn’t sound like they ever answered the question about Dodie and Stella’s relationship. It seems like a missed opportunity for a book that had such potential.

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This entry was posted on March 15, 2013 by in Uncategorized.



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