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Category Archive for 'Psychological study'

Ten pages into this novella, which Muriel Spark claimed was her favorite among all her novels, the fate of main character Lise is not in doubt. Lise will be dead before the book ends. Since the reader will suspect who the murderer is well before the murder happens, the author has always preferred to refer to this book not as a “whodunnit,” but as a “whydunnit,” a term she uses within the book. From the outset the reader observes surreal, alarming, and clinically insane behavior from Lise, the victim. At the same time the person who seems to be her murderer appears to be a just bit wacky. Unexpected ironies throughout turn the novel on its head, creating a mood in which dark humor and bizarre surprises keep a smile on the face of the reader almost all the way through the novel – until the reader discovers the truth, that the person in “the driver’s seat” throughout the novel’s action is actually neither of the two main characters. It is Muriel Spark herself, whose ability to play with the reader’s sensibilities, control them, and then reveal the extent to which they have been manipulated turns the “whydunnit” into an unparalleled tour de force.

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Australian author Christian White uses two separate narratives to create a murder mystery which goes way beyond the usual thin characters forced to deal with bizarre and unexpected experiences. By alternating chapters between two families, he focuses instead on creating real people who find themselves suddenly dealing with events for which they have never prepared, many of which are now crises that have evolved from experiences buried deep in their past. The two narratives have few connections until late in the novel, as “The Wife” and “The Widow” share their lives with the reader but do not know each other and have virtually no contact. It is not until the ferry arrives on tiny Belport Island with Kate Keddie and her father-in-law, Fisher Keddie, about a third of the way into the novel, that the mystery takes off. Arriving at their summer house, they discover that there is food in the microwave, a shopping bag on the counter, and a note to himself written by John Keddie. Fresh sheets on a bed, items in the bar fridge, and a room service menu prove to Kate and Fisher that John has, in fact, been at the island during his “missing” weeks. Unfortunately, however, a body is soon found inside a car that has been located in deep water off the harbor docks, and, not surprisingly, the body inside is John’s. He has been murdered. Written in clear, precise prose, and filled with drama and excitement, the novel raises questions about sacrifice and guilt which will linger long.

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Set during the last summer of World War II in Europe, The Turncoat, Siegfried Lenz’s second novel, humanizes war and its soldiers in new ways. Concentrating on a group of young German soldiers who obey orders, even at the cost of their own lives and sanity, Lenz shows their vulnerability as they begin to reject the myths and propaganda they have been fed and do the best they can simply to survive. Focusing primarily on Walter Proska, a young man in his late twenties who has been at the front for three years, the author allows the reader to know him and his fellow soldiers as people, young men who once had dreams and who now have mostly memories – many of them horrific. They go where they are marched or transported, and do what they are told to do, often with a secret eye to escape. Lenz shows these soldiers as they really are, without demeaning them, sentimentalizing their emotional conflicts, or excusing their crimes. He makes no judgments, depicting the war as it was for this group of young German soldiers and illustrating a point of view very different from what Americans may expect. Written in 1951 but never published, it was rediscovered after Lenz’s death in 2014, and published in Europe and now the US. A masterpiece!

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In entitling his latest book Here We Are, Graham Swift announces in advance that all the clues to understanding the people whose lives are the subject of this story are here, already present within this narrative. Jack Robbins, known on stage as Jack Robinson, the “compere” of a variety show on the Brighton Pier, enjoys spending time sitting in the audience at the back of the theatre watching the magic act – seeing and appreciating all the illusions and the role-playing that are going on but recognizing that they are all part of a giant “sham” controlled by the magician. His co-workers, Ronnie and Evie, the magician and his assistant, who are the other main characters here, lead lives which have obviously made them who they are, too, though all lack the kind of insight which allows them to connect and resolve their present lives with their past. As author Graham Swift develops all these characters over time, the reader’s appreciation of the author’s themes of how one’s reality, responsibility, and ultimately identity are affected by the imagination expands in surprising – and satisfying – ways, as seen in the dramatic conclusion. In what may be his most compressed, thematically dense, and intriguing novel in recent years, Graham Swift, too, may have followed the old theatrical adage and “saved the best till last.”

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Debut author Annette Saunooke Clapsaddle adds a whole new element to the Native American novels published in recent years. Her main character, Cowney Sequoyah, in his late teens, has recognized an opportunity improve his life beyond what he experiences on the Cherokee reservation in North Carolina, by working for the summer at the Grove Park Inn, an elegant hotel in Asheville, North Carolina, several hours’ ride from Cherokee. Cowney dreams of completing his college education, but he is in desperate need of funds if he is to do that. Author Clapsaddle moves back and forth in time and place creating vivid pictures of daily life on the reservation and the contrasts to Asheville, establishing some of the pleasant, even important, memories Cowney has brought with him. At the inn, he learns that some German and Japanese diplomats are being held there as “guest” prisoners until they can eventually be deported. His job is working on the grounds, helping to maintain the barbed wire around the property to prevent escapes, while Essie, a young Cherokee girl, whom he has transported with him from the reservation to the inn to work, has a job inside the inn. Foreshadowing plays a large part in much of the action here, as does the use of flashbacks to connect sections from Asheville (and Essie) with other sections, often involving the greatness of nature which Cowney notes when he returns to Cherokee, occasionally, on weekends. Suddenly, Cowney finds himself the subject of an investigation into the disappearance of a young girl, and his life and viewpoint change.

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