Tuesday 12 May 2015

What She Left - T. R. Richmond

Alice Salmon is a young journalist who is found drowned after a University reunion in Southampton. There is some debate as to what caused her to drown; was it a drunken accident, suicide or was one of the men in her life responsible? Professor Cooke, a man who has crossed paths with Alice at various points decides to reconstruct her life and death by unearthing the footprint left by Alice both online and in the real world, and this book is put together out of those findings. Essentially the book is an attempt to take the epistolary or diary genre into the social media age. This is something that has been done before, Night Film by Marisha Pessl managed to tell it's story almost entirely through it's odd collection of web screen shots, newspaper clippings and social media interactions (and both Danielewski's House of Leaves and S by Dorst and Abrams use a variety of media 'artifacts' to tell their stories); What She Left does not. 95% of the story advances and is revealed through the letters written by Professor Cooke to his Canadian pen-pal, in these letters Cooke not only describes and explains his actions he also discusses details about Alice that he has apparently gleaned from social media (much of which source material never actually appears in the book.) The exerts from twitter, text messages and various blogs are stuck into this story, somewhat haphazardly, and often don't appear to add anything of any particular worth to the story. If feels that the author wanted to do something really groundbreaking, but got cold feet and fell back on more conventional storytelling methods.
Having said all of this I did enjoy the book, in a social media age it was an interesting look at the impact constant communication could have of the posthumous reputation of an individual. It also did have a genuine twist in the tail which I thought was ingenious. In a Girl on the Train age the effect of alcohol on the reliability and relationships of Alice would seem to be all the range, although I do sometimes wonder at the number of 'alcohol makes women bad/mad/victims/sluts/disgusting etc etc messages that we need it does start to feel like a bit of a general backlash. I can't say that I found myself 'liking' any of the characters (except maybe the minor character of Fliss). For a start. I found it hard to see how so many people could have been just so enamoured of Alice, with her histrionics, self absorbed whining and apparent self entitlement. She came over as someone to be avoided at all costs. Few of the other characters came over as too much better. One character who seemed to have been stuck into the book for no obvious reason was Ben, the ex boyfriend of Alice. At no point was he deemed to have been involved in her death, and his sole purpose seemed to have been to illustrate that Alice was totally happy trying illicit substances if ever offered. Maybe to show that she was the kind of girl who 'took no shit' from boyfriends, or rather who 'took shit for quite a while, then decided not to and dumped them' so much like the majority of people really.
As I have said I didn't dislike this book; the story was entertaining enough, in a summer thriller kind of way and despite my issues with it's format I was kept interested enough to read it all. I think that a few years ago this would have seemed like a better read, but there have been so many female orientated murder/thrillers recently and they have been so well handled as to make this one feel a little weak. So while it's not the best, it would certainly make an entertaining enough beach read.

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