10 July 2008


So as part of my effort to blog more frequently I decided that I could write about what I'm reading: I read very fast and I read a lot and I always have something to say about what I'm reading, except I never seem to have anyone to say it to. So YOU, lucky blog readers, will be the recipient of my thoughts on mostly genre and sometimes trashy stuff.

Mapping the Edge by Sarah Dunant

This was just an okay thriller. Competently written prose - nothing that set my teeth on edge but no marvelous tiny observations either, competently plotted - there weren't any plot holes a John Deere could fit through or anything - but the characterizations were flawed and kind of terrible, and I found the setup hokey.

Here's your SPOILER WARNING. I am constitutionally unable to write about books without talking about the end, it's such an integral part of how well the story works for me. I don't know how professional critics do it. Anyway. Consider yourself warned, and don't read any further if you're planning on checking this book out yourself.

So Anna, the mother of a small child, goes to Italy for a vacation and doesn't come back when she's supposed to, leaving her worried child and some friends at home. There are three narratives in the book - one from the perspective of a friend at home and two separate scenarios about what has happened to Anna.

In the first scenario of Anna's disappearance, she has been kidnapped by a disturbed man who is obsessed with his dead wife. Anna, of course, resembles the dead wife. In the second scenario, Anna is having a lover's tryst with a man who turns out to be a con man and international art thief. For a while I wondered if the tryst scenario was going to be the drugged hallucination and the kidnapping would turn out to be "real", but by the end I realized it was just a two roads diverging in a yellow wood kind of thing.

Both scenarios struck me as equally hackneyed and I rolled my eyes and huffed with impatience a lot. Not enough to stop reading, though. Heh. Rich crazy photographer in a remote area obsessed with his dead wife who has had his mansion converted into a fortress? Suave lover is revealed as a con man an art thief? Come on.

I give Dunant credit for her skill in timing the narrative arcs of both scenarios, which occur in parallel. Plus she was smart enough to set the book in the mid 90s, before every man, woman and child had a mobile phone (though some characters do, it's plausible that not everyone does) and before email and widespread internet access was common.

My gripe about the book is that Anna's character behaves so inconsistently, while other characters seem like they might have been interesting but aren't really fleshed out enough so you can tell. In a way this sloppy characterization is a plot hole in itself.

In the kidnapping scenario, we are asked to believe that Anna, a devoted mother and experienced solo traveler, is dumb enough not only to get into the car of a strange man - a man who approached her and struck up a conversation earlier in the day - to accept a ride from Senor Weirdo in lieu of a taxi (she's not portrayed as being in desperate financial straits) - but also to drink a strange-tasting espresso in its entirety which has supposedly been left behind, untouched, by the man's supposed friend who just got out of the car before Senor Weirdo approached Anna to offer her a ride. Um. It's 1996, not 1936, and most female travelers alone wouldn't accept the ride, let alone a drink which tasted strange.

In the lover's weekend scenerio, Anna just doesn't try very hard to call home and let them know her plans have changed, which, again, WTF? There are some obstacles thrown up but there are all kinds of phones on the street and stuff, and responsible people who change their plans usually keep calling until they get confirmatin that the folks at home have gotten the message and aren't worried. You hear a ton about how much Anna loves her kid and I just don't think any of the mothers of young children that I know would act like that, blinded by lust or not.

Meanwhile, Stella, the friend who narrates the at home part of the story, seems to have a drug and alcohol problem but that's never really explored, although it would have made the at home narrative more interesting, since it's basically "she didn't call and we worried" and "the phone rang but no one left a message on the machine and they hung up, perhaps it was Anna but we didn't know for sure and kept worrying". Stella also has a contentious relationship with Paul, Anna's live-in gay friend who acts as a father to her daughter, but I never see Paul or Stella behaving in a way which would irritate the other one, and you aren't given any slices of their past together or mutual jealousy over Anna or the daughter to explain why they dislike each other, just a vague "we seemed to rub each other the wrong way" sort of answer.

So ... it was a decent page turner and passed the time, but unless you read fast and are less critical than me, I wouldn't recommend it.

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