Discussion location: Bacchus (a double helping)

Chosen by: Me

Reason for choice: The book was recommended to me on Amazon based on other books I’ve read.  The name and blurb were intriguing, and it seemed different to other books we’ve read lately.

Review:

Having been compared to The Secret History and Let the Right One In, and having received positive reviews from The Guardian and The Telegraph, and with the tagline “A highly contagious book virus, a literary society and a Snow Queen-like disappearing author”, there were high hopes for this novel.

In the small town of Rabbit Back in Finland, substitute teacher Ella finds a copy of Crime and Punishment where the ending has been altered. She begins to investigate and discovers a book virus that causes books to re-write themselves. After submitting a short story, Ella is invited to become the tenth member of an exclusive writing society founded by famous children’s writer Laura White, whose Creatureville books have become part of the fabric of their society.  The members of the society, picked as children, are all now famous writers. At Ella’s welcoming party, Laura White vanishes into an indoor snow storm and is never seen again.

Ella quickly learns about “The Game”, where members can challenge each other by sneaking into each other’s houses and forcing them, sometimes using violence and other times through a drug, to confess their most intimate thoughts while blindfolded. During The Game, Ella discovers that the original tenth member mysteriously disappeared. Ella then turns detective to unravel the mysteries.

Sounds intriguing right? Unfortunately, despite its promise and a good opening, the mysteries built up in the novel disappointingly fail to come to fruition. Instead, it leaves a bundle of dangling threads, unanswered questions, and unexplored themes, making us wonder what exactly the point of the novel was.

As a mystery, it failed to provide answers to the questions it posed, such as what happened to Laura White and what caused the book virus. As part of the magical realism genre, it confirmed the magical elements too late (being merely suggested for most of the novel), making events like the dog-demon battle seem out of place. As a character novel, it lacked character development and a deeper analysis of the protagonist, for example, why she was so detached from her father, and the relevance of her often-mentioned defective ovaries.

Moreover, the novel’s most original (and arguably most fascinating) aspect, The Game, wasn’t fully delved into, and a deeper exploit into the secrets revealed would have made this novel far better.

The narrative style was appealing, posing some insightful and interesting theories on human nature and happiness, but this was somewhat overshadowed by the novel’s lack of padding, which resulted in it failing to come together. Despite its 320 page length, it felt rushed and un-detailed. Perhaps something was lost in translation from Finnish. For example, the double quotes around “spilling” suggest this as a new and exciting word to describe the telling of secrets, but this has long been an English idiom.

Overall, we failed to see why this book has received such popular reviews, and the comparison to the masterpiece of character development The Secret History is rather insulting to Donna Tartt.

A charming concept but too shallow in its execution.

Overall score: 5/10

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