Karen N. (Lafayette, CA)
A haunting tale
Sheryl R. (DeQuincy, LA)
I always see this word while reading reviews, or blurbs in the cover of hardback books, but have never used it myself. Since I'm usually one of those people who can predict the ending and turns of stories, I'm not easily fazed (maybe only once, while reading Stephen King's Misery, but I was young and didn't know any better). I'm glad there's finally a book where I can use this particular word in my review.
Yes, haunting, chilling, poignant, evocative, stirring, startling, unnerving, disturbing, mesmerizing, terrifying, unforgettable… You can use any or a combination of these words to describe the book. No matter which one, this story will haunt you for a long, long time.
Marta and Hector are a couple living together. Their son, Kylan, has grown up and moved out. Early in the book, we instantly knew something is just not right with their relationship; something seems to be wrong with one or the other. Marta follows the instructions on one particular book her Mother-in-law gave her for her wedding, and her recites the rules in her mind as she carries out the tasks in her day:
"Make your home a place of peace and order."
"Your husband belongs to the outside world. The house is your domain, and your responsibility."
"Never question his authority, for he always does what is best for the family, and has your interests at heart."
Hector goes to work as a teacher, and Marta stays home and does all the housewife duties: clean, cook, shop. She watches the clock closely since she always needed to be ready and have everything prepared, especially the meal, before Hector gets home. Marta does not remember anything before her marriage to Hector. Her whole universe and existence revolves around her husband.
"After a hard day at work, your husband will want a hearty meal to replenish his spirits."
Marta is also on some kind of medications, and Hector always makes sure she remembers to take them. Sometimes he stands in front of her and examines her mouth after swallowing. You need them, he says. However, Marta decided to skip the medicine, and that's when some weird visions appeared. She keeps seeing this frail, skinny blonde girl in various places of the house. She's wearing white pyjamas with flowers. Sometimes she's clean, healthy and has perfect nails; other times, skinny as bones, filthy with dirty bitten nails and the color of the pyjamas grey.
"Never bother you husband with domestic matters."
Who is the girl? Is she hallucinating, as Hector keeps insisting she is, or is the girl a real person in repressed memory? Should Marta continue to take her medication, or skip to see and hear the girl more clearly? Nothing seems to be what it is. Could she trust her instincts and memories? Should she trust her husband instead, or is she losing her mind? Then, things are getting even worse when Kylan return to visit with his fiancée… Marta's sometimes strong, clear and coherent and other times lost, confused and full of doubt narrative will break your heart.
"Always put the needs of the rest of the family above your own."
It's unbelievable that this book is a debut and how young the author was when she wrote the book. Emma Chapman writes with the skill of an accomplished, mature and experienced author. The concept is brilliant, the plot tight and the prosecution smooth. She explores many facets of our society with ease and grace. She did not take the easy way out by providing us with a straightforward answer to the question we are still asking ourselves way after the last page is turned… Brilliant.
Thanks to the publisher and Bookbrowse for providing my advance reader's copy.
The best kind of thriller
I love books that tell a deep story and that keep me guessing, but I reserve my highest praise for those which make me feel that story in my gut. From the moment I began this book, I was filled with a sense of foreboding and disorientation. The author's very words seemed to convey a sense of doom and darkness which I felt so palpably that I had to stop and process both the story and my feelings on several occasions. What exactly was going on? On so many levels, I identified with this woman who seemed to be dealing with a troubled marriage, an empty nest, a childhood filled with trauma, mental illness, and on and on. But then, was that REALLY what the author was implying. I suspect that every person who reads the book will have very different experiences, viewpoints, and opinions which will make this book ideal for book club discussions. The ending, to me, was fitting and not completely unexpected. I highly recommend this book for those who enjoy experiencing those works of art which touch the most frightening parts of being human.