Thursday, 4 May 2017

Nocturnal Animals by Austin Wright

I had heard of the film Nocturnal Animals as it was nominated for at least one Oscar earlier this year. I hadn't seen the film however and wasn't aware there even was a book. There are in fact two books, one called Tony and Susan and one then re-released under the more eye catching name Nocturnal Animals.

It was this name coupled with the tense confrontation and kidnapping at the beginning of the book that made me instantly think there was going to be vampires. Maybe it was because I had just watched From Dusk Till Dawn but I have to confess I was excited when I thought a bit of blood sucking was going to be done. Unfortunately to my disappointment no vampires stepped forward. I wasn't the only one of the group though to initially think an american Dracula (Ray) v Van Helsing (Tony) was on the cards.

The beginning of the book (Tonys part at least) made me think of Stephen King. The family were heading to Maine, they were driving through endlessly open America and it looked like something horrible (and possibly supernatural) was going to happen to them. It was brilliantly tense and I loved it. A few people in the group found it so worrying that they either didn't read past this section or struggled through it as it made them feel uncomfortable.

It was after the fate of Tony's wife and daughter was decided that I feel the book started to fall apart. I found the police investigation ridiculous, as though it was brushed under the carpet by all except one cop who would randomly demand Tony to drop everything on no notice and travel cross country at his whim. I found the way Tony carried on afterwards to be quite, clinical? empty? I'm not sure how to describe it but it just seemed to be a series of robot motions, go stay with sister, eat, sleep, go back to work now, go attend a party. One of the group argued this was because Tony was a maths professor so his mind was very clinical and organised however his lack of emotion at any point really started to grind on me. I went with it during the car jack and when he randomly walked through the night before asking very politely if he could use the telephone but as time went on he appeared more spineless than anything and you just couldn't side with him or want him to win. A few of the group also didn't agree with Tony's affair with the student, I say affair but it wasn't really as he was of course a widow at this point. Again it just seemed cold, and unrealistic. Why were so many women attracted to him? I just didn't get it.

All the above is about Tony and there were of course two parts to the book. I found Susans family very confusing (was it the dog or her daughter who was sat on the Monopoly board?) and initially I thought there was going to be some sort of big reveal. Had Susan been in a similar situation to the car jack with Edward? Was the daughter in Tony's story really Susan and Edwards who Susan had blanked out for her sanity and Edward was trying to resurrect? Again I wasn't he only one in thinking the book could have gone down this path and a few of us thought it would have been better if it had.

The book had a very defined writing style, it was very naturalistic following the random thoughts of the particular character however I found it hard to follow and thought Wright made a mistake by having both Tony and Susan written in this style. I could understand Susan being this particular way but for Wright to make us believe we were reading a book written by Edward and then reading Susan's internal thoughts the writing style should have been more different between the two.

The ending to Tony's part of the story was also a let down. The end 'gathering scene' was just bizarre and almost comical where random women kept turning up (one conveniently called Susan just for Susan and the reader to think 'oh is this meant to be Susan?'). It was almost as though Wright wanted to create his very own Columbo/Poirot 'get them all in the room and reveal the killer but not before dissecting everyones character first' scene which just wasn't pulled off. A few of us also struggled to follow what actually happened to Tony and I confess by this point I didn't really much care.

Susan's ending was also a let down as nothing happened! Certain members pointed out that it was all about Edward getting revenge. Flatter Susan in to reading the book and then totally ignore her, leaving her stewing as he knew so well she would. On reflection I think this probably was Edwards intention however I didn't realise this at the time of reading. I will say that the book did prompt some good group discussion which always gains a point from me when it comes to marks out of 10.

There were some quite wide ranging scores (1-9) with an average of 5. I don't think I do the book an injustice by saying on the balance the group didn't really enjoy it. It was one of those books that it you don't like any of the characters (and who was there to like?) you are going to struggle as very little (apart from the really good beginning) happens.

Next book is The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry. Sorry The Shepherd's Life I nominated you for book of the month but failed. Sad face.

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