Monday, August 11, 2014

Pulling the strings behind the scenes

Now that the Internet has made it relatively easy for anyone to publish a book, the literary world of books and authors would seem to be more accessible than ever.  For Frances Thorpe, who toils thanklessly at a literary magazine in London, a chance encounter allows an unimagined entrance into this glittering world in Alys, Always.

The book begins with Frances coming upon the scene of a car accident.  Because the windshield is cracked, she's unable to see who's inside, but she begins speaking to the female victim while they wait for the ambulance and police to arrive.  Sadly, the woman doesn't survive the accident.  Soon afterwards, a police officer contacts her and asks if she'd be willing to meet with the family members of the woman who died.  They'd like to ask some questions about their loved one's last moments.  At first Frances is reluctant, but she eventually agrees.

Because she works in publishing, she immediately recognizes the husband of the victim as Laurence Kyte, author of many best-selling books and respected member of the literati.  He and his late wife Alys had two children who are young adults:  the needy, flighty Polly, and the reserved, assessing Oliver.  Frances tells the family what happened after she arrived on the scene of Alys's accident, then throws in an embellishment.  Polly, stricken at the loss of her mother, latches on to Frances and asks her to attend the memorial service.  Frances does, and she's spotted by everyone in the publishing industry, who assume that she is closer to Laurence Kyte than she really is.  She doesn't exactly correct this assumption.

There follows a long string of events where Frances attempts to get closer to the family.  She is able to use the perceived relationship with the Kytes to advance her career (which says something about the state of nepotism in the publishing industry, I guess).  She also begins to manipulate people and events to insinuate herself further into the family. It's all very odd the way the people around her just seem to put up with her, when it seems her presence is unwanted.

The blurb on the flap of the book speaks of the "audacious ending" so I was waiting for something big, but the book just sort of fizzled out without that "whizz bang" ending I was expecting.  Frances was not very likable, but she was able to use what she had to move ahead in the world, even if she wasn't always exactly honest about how she did it.  Still, if the people around her were that slow on the uptake, I guess they deserved to be manipulated.

Final Verdict for Alys, Always: Two Gherkins, for being a story with a promising start that really never took off

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