Tag Archives: Siren

The Orphans by Annemarie Neary: The kids are not alright

Cover imageI’m not an avid thriller reader as regular visitors here will know but last year one did find its way onto my books of the year list – Annemarie Neary’s Siren, notable for its sharp, pithy writing and smart psychological insights. Her new novel opens in Goa, a world away from Siren’s Northern Irish setting, where two children look up from playing on a beach to find that neither their father nor their mother is in sight.

Sophie and William have taken their kids off to Goa to live in a commune. Adored by four-year-old Sparrow – Row for short – Sophie is a vibrant character, beautiful, flirtatious and free-spirited. When the couple disappears, their friend Eddie steps in until William’s sister takes the children back to London. By then eight-year-old Jess has appointed herself her brother’s protector. While Jess tries her best to settle into a conventional middle-class life, Row is sent to boarding school. Several decades later, Jess is a lawyer living with her husband and baby daughter in an expensive, beautifully decorated fortress of a house close by to where she was brought up while Row spends his time following leads, convinced that his mother is still alive. When a sighting takes him to Curramona where his mother once lived, he confronts her old friend Mags whose suggestion that Sophie might still be alive, keeping herself close to Jess, has devastating consequences.

Like Siren, The Orphans is very much a psychological thriller, exploring the effects of childhood trauma which ripple through into adulthood. Jess is tightly wound, always in control yet desperate enough for safety and security to make a bad marriage. In contrast, Row leads a rackety life, always searching for his mother, heedless of risk to himself and others. Neary’s writing is as sharp and vivid as I remembered it. Her narrative slips easily from Jess’ perspective to Row’s and back again, spilling small details of the puzzle. When the resolution comes it’s pleasingly open, avoiding easy explanations. The novel felt less taut than Siren if it’s a straightforward white-knuckle ride you’re after but if you’re a fan of the psychological thriller there’s plenty here to keep your attention.

Paperbacks to Look Out for in February 2017: Part One

Cover imageThis is a turn up for the books, so to speak: the first part of my February paperback preview includes three short story collections. No, don’t go – I was like you once, dismissing short stories as not for me, but somewhere along the line, I’m not sure how, I’ve undergone a conversion. It used to be that I’d only read collections by authors whose novels I loved, a snack in the hope that a ‘proper’ book would come along soon, so I may as well kick this off with Helen Oyeyemi’s What is Not Yours is Not Yours. It’s a linked collection – another lure for novel-lovers – which takes its readers ‘into a world of lost libraries and locked gardens, of marshlands where the drowned dead live and a city where all the clocks have stopped; students hone their skills at puppet school, the Homely Wench Society commits a guerrilla book-swap, and lovers exchange books and roses on St Jordi’s Day’ say the publishers which sounds, quite literally, fabulous. Still hoping for a Oyeyemi novel, though…

Lots of chat in my neck of the Twitter woods about Helen Ellis’ American Housewife which sounds a world away from Oyeyemi’s stories. The blurb for this one is wonderful, worthy of a lengthy quote so here it is: ‘They redecorate. And they are quietly capable of kidnapping, breaking and entering, and murder. These women know the rules of a well-lived life: replace your tights every winter, listen to erotic audio books while you scrub the bathroom floor, serve what you want to eat at your dinner parties’. Ellis has her tongue firmly in her cheek in this collection, described as ‘vicious, fresh and darkly hilarious’ which sounds just great.Cover image

Shirley Jackson comes up time and time again in the bits of the blogosphere I follow, perhaps because it was the centenary of her birth last year, although Penguin Classics seem to have done a good job in bringing her to readers’ attention. She’s very much a writers’ writer, too. Just an Ordinary Day seems to have all the Jackson hallmarks with stories set in a world ‘by turns frightening, funny, strange’. She’s an author whose work I’d like to explore further.

Penguin Classics are also responsible for bringing Sabahattin Ali’s Madonna in a Fur Coat to British readers’ attention. First published in Turkey in 1943, it’s tale of a man who leaves his village for 1920s Berlin where he falls in love with an artist. Maureen Freely’s translation met with a rapturous reception from the critics when it was published last year and it sounds quite beautiful.

Cover imageI’m ending this post as I began with an uncharacteristic choice for me, this time a thriller. Annemarie Neary’s Siren took me by surprise last year, gripping me from its superbly dramatic opening when Róisín finds herself witness to a murder she’s unwittingly helped to set up. Neary takes her time revealing Róisín’s past, leaking small details into her narrative and occasionally bringing her readers up short. Her writing is sharp and clean, often vivid in its intensity, coupled with an astute psychological insight. A smart, pithy novel. I’m hoping for another one from Neary soon.

That’s it for the first February paperback preview. As ever, a click on a title will take you to a more detailed synopsis or to my review for Siren. A second bunch of February paperbacks will be along soon and if you’d like to catch up with February’s new books they’re here and here.

Siren by Annemarie Neary: The past is a foreign country

Cover imageI’m not a thriller kind of gal – well only the televised kind, usually with a Scandiland backdrop – but the setting of Annemarie Neary’s debut and the fact that I was still hauling myself out of my flu-induced reading slump before going on holiday made me reach for it. It’s the story of Róisín, brought face to face with the past she’s been trying to bury for more than twenty years when she sees the man who dragged her into the Troubles in Belfast looking set to become leader of his political party.

Siren opens with the incident that will set the seal on the rest of Róisín’s life: the murder of a soldier – a ‘legitimate target’ in Lonergan’s parlance – who she has unwittingly helped to lure into a trap. Mousey and shy, Róisín is flattered when she’s picked out by the brash, sophisticated new girl in her class who invites her on a night out, unaware that she’s being used. When Dolores’ face appears as a photofit on the front pages of the newspapers after the atrocity, Róisín is terrified that she’ll be identified too but no one remembers the nondescript friend dancing at the discotheque. Soon Lonergan comes calling, demanding another job but this time offering a way out once it’s done. Before she makes her escape, Róisín is witness to another atrocity and it is in the hope of doing justice for this that she takes herself off to Lamb Island, decades later, where Lonergan has a house from which he conducts his dodgy business dealings. An ill-judged, drunken email sent late one night before she left New York has alerted him to her plans and there’s a reception committee: Theo the Dutchman – all silky charm – and Boyle the creepy voyeur, only too willing to keep an eye on Róisín for Lonergan.

From its superbly dramatic opening, Siren had me in its grip. Neary takes her time revealing Róisín’s past, leaking small details into her narrative and occasionally bringing her readers up short. Róisín is cleverly drawn, her teenage naiveté making her the perfect prey for Lonergan, as is Boyle with his sinister references to the previous occupant of Róisín’s rented bungalow. Neary’s writing is sharp and clean, often vivid in its intensity, coupled with an astute psychological insight. When I was reading it I was reminded a little of Lionel Shriver’s Ordinary Decent Criminals, published long before We Need to Talk about Kevin brought her fame but, for me, a much better book. Obviously, Siren’s ending is out-of-bounds as far as this review’s concerned but it’s a satisfying one. Altogether a smart, stylish piece of writing – far pithier than either Attica Locke’s Pleasantville or S J Bolton’s Second Life, both recent ventures into thriller territory for me, and all the better for it. I’ll be interested to see what Neary comes up with next.