Central Park by Guillaume Musso

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Alice, a not-all-that-young French police officer, wakes to find herself handcuffed to a stranger in the middle of Central Park, New York. All that she can recall from the previous evening is knocking back cocktails… in Paris. But before you point out that this is just a French take on the ‘Hangover’, the aforementioned-and-attached-to-our-hero stranger awakes to introduce himself as Gabriel, an American Jazz musician who claims that just last night he was knocking down pints of Guinness while performing in Dublin. Pfft, likely story. Alice, with her keen police-heightened instincts, can smell liars a mile off. But then there is blood on her shirt – how did that get there? And there is a bullet missing from her gun – where has it gone? These and the other million unanswered questions that open the novel are (of course) resolved through the exploration of our protagonist’s history as a younger officer heavily involved in a series of linked murders and the repercussions of that case on her own physical, personal and psychological health. 

I thought Central Park was a decent enough thriller which probed at the reader’s curiosity in the opening chapters and then turning over each stone of the novel’s mystery with a few not-too-surprising twists on the way. It was, as we imagine was the author’s principal intention, entertaining and the narrative flowed well. Nonetheless this was my first Musso novel and I did note a number of frustrating elements that took the edge away from what is in principle an interesting, if unlikely, story. Firstly was how cheesy the novel is. From the supposedly-illuminating quotes which open each chapter, to the clichéd descriptions of landscapes, people, events, to the completely unnecessary, unwarranted, unwanted yet completely expected ending, there is little that is original in Musso’s writing. The story flows well but at the expense of the language which never forces the reader to think very much about the language used. Likewise I found the use of pathetic fallacy, which is constant, again to be unnecessary, clichéd, dated but it was something that I came to expect in the novel. The strongest section of the novel, I felt, was not to do with the suspense or the plot but the way Musso discusses the psychological effects of Alice’s trauma on her life and her thought processes as she faces up to it. Otherwise I thought Central Park to be a predictable, comfortable read which will entertain readers with its plot but certainly not with its literary prowess.

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Central Park is published by XO Editions and is available here. (en français!)

You might (or might not) also want to check out XO’s ‘trailer’ (is this a new thing? – I’ve never seen one before!) of Central Park below:

 

 

Review: “La vérité sur l’affaire Harry Quebert” by Joël Dicker

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Marcus Goldman is an author whose first and as yet only novel sold so well that he has become the new shining light of American literature. Yet in his new lascivious lifestyle he becomes stuck by the stifling effects of writer’s block. He eventually winds up at the house of good friend, teacher, former University lecturer and respected author Harry Quebert to draw inspiration from the serenity of Aurora. That is until the skeleton of a 15 year-old girl is discovered buried metres away from Quebert’s house. With a manuscript copy of his grande-oeuvre alongside it, and the words ‘Goodbye Nola Darling’ written on the title page. Nola Kellergan vanished from the region back in 1975, 33 years ago.

 

It is, in the first instance, a thriller. Quebert admits he had an affair with this girl during the summer of ’75 when he was 34. However he also pledges his innocence to Goldman. And we are off on a capricious quest to find out the truth about the Harry Quebert affair. Through the 550 pages the plot is continuously in flux, twisting and changing, bringing in more characters to be dissected under the narrator’s inquisitive light. Goldman quizzes many people related to Nola and the incidents of the summer of 1975, and this allows for one of the strengths of the novel: the characterisation. As we are introduced to each character, we become aware of their story, their relations with Nola and the region, and this allows the reader to build up a rather vivid picture of the events of that summer. As we gain increasingly more information from Goldman’s inquisitions, we suddenly think we know who it is: Nola’s parents who used to beat her! Or Elijah Stern who actually owned the house Harry lived in during that summer and paid her to pose naked in his house! Or maybe his chaffeur Luther Caleb who used to follow Nola around and has been known to mishandle young girls. But then officer Pratt, who led the case during the time, was known to have forced Nola to perform sexual acts on him. The moment the reader thinks he knows who it is, Dicker slips the rug from under your feet and you find yourself looking around once again thinking “what the bloody hell’s going on here!?”

At the centre of the narrative is a seemingly idealised and unquenchable love between Quebert and Nola, probably the only thing that remains constant throughout the novel. But it is also a story of friendship, about writing (each chapter begins with advice offered from the master Quebert to his student Goldman over the years), fame, childhood, psychological problems, happiness, murder, justice and truth. There is certainly a lot to consider.

Yet it is not the most sparkling prose you’ll ever read. There are some romanticised passages expressing the relationship between Nola and Quebert, but generally the prose is fast-moving and plot driven. Thus it is easy to see why this was the novel to knock Dan Brown’s Inferno off the top of the best-sellers charts around Europe last summer. The rights for the English translation have apparently been purchased by Penguin for a reported £300,000, the largest ever sum paid for an advance, and it is due to be published in around May this year. And I’m sure a film won’t be far behind.

 

La vérité sur l’affaire Harry Quebert is available in French on Amazon: http://www.amazon.fr/v%C3%A9rit%C3%A9-sur-laffaire-Harry-Quebert/dp/2877068161