Ever been to see a film, sat through the first ten, fifteen minutes wondering where the story is going? This novel is a bit like that. It wasn't until page seventy that the tension is turned up a notch and as the ratchet creaks so the pace increases and with it you find yourself wanting to read more. This is no bad book for a debut. Author James Rice, a Waterstones Employee, a book seller by trade, has obviously been reading those other books written as from an outsider’s perspective. No doubting the commercial potential nor even the novel angle that such books, this one certainly capture. As I said, I found it slow at first but sticking with was worth the effort. In many ways Alice and the Fly is a psychological thriller. A sort of modern day 'psycho,' (as the central protagonist is nicknamed) through whose eyes we see clearly revealed the phobias and obsessions that can afflict certain minds.
Greg is a boy afraid of THEM. Them being spiders. Real spiders and their tacky webs but also not so real ones. His fear is huge. It causes him to have seizures. Greg’s teacher spots the boys problems and then tries her level best to help him overcome them. It is this fear that has Miss Hayes ask him to stay behind school for an informal chat. That is Greg’s second, but not final problem. When he speaks he lisps and when he does so other kids mock him. Mrs Hayes suggests, seeing his dislike of saying anything to her at all, that he keeps a journal, puts all his issues down so that he can get them off his chest and onto paper where he can see how small in reality they are. Trouble is they aren’t. Small that is and by selecting Alice as his target to whom he writes so another set of issues manifest themselves. He starts to obsess about her home life, her dog, her brother, her father but most of all, Alice.As debuts go this is a brave attempt and just different enough to the others mentioned above to make it count. Not only does Mister Rice write with great sympathy in the voice of Greg but he also reveals and exploits the many frailties of family life showing us a brutal father, a fractured marriage along with the central characters schizophrenia.
For someone who has never been a huge lover of gritty crime or even psychological thrillers I takes a lot for me to like what I often find overburdened with stereotypes and clichés. So then, how does this much acclaimed book fare? Does it tick all the right boxes?
It is, as the title suggests, a book about a girl and a train. Well, yes, but…that isn't quite true. Yes, there is a train upon which a character travels but there is more than one girl, there are three. Rachel, Anna and Megan. Even the train isn't really featured much as there isn't any one single train. It is the track, and the females, that link the narrative. You see the track which carries the train passes by the houses, homes in fact, where the three live or have lived. It is here where the past and the present collide. But it is the track by which we pass the homes and therefore the histories of those living within.
It is by that conceit that we get to see events, recalled and recollected by the three protagonists that shunts the engine out of the station before sending it hurtling along at some speed to its inevitable conclusion.
We have Rachel who sits centre stage as we learn of her marriage to Tom, Tom’s affair, the breakdown of the relationship, her turning to alcohol and her subsequent descent into personal hell. There is Anna who had the affair with Tom and who then fell pregnant before marrying and moving into Tom and Rachel’s old house. Finally there is Megan, neighbour to Tom and Anna and who is married to Scott. A head of steam gathers when Megan is found dead. Suspicions rise as to who her killer might be.
Paula Hawkins, formerly a journalist, piles on the tension as she plays Rachel’s story, her forgetful memory that shifts shadows into ominous corners as Rachel seeks to remember why she arrived home so battered and bruised, against the counter telling, shared perspectives of both Anna and Megan. By this neat stylistic trick the reader finds them self willingly immersed in a story that Chinese whispers events building them up as potential clues and motives. The tension fidgets between one to the other with no clear idea, only elusive possibilities, of who the murderer is.
So then, does it tick those boxes? Yes.
Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.