Sunday, 14 April 2013

Broken Harbour - brilliant madness, but.....

        When I read Lesley's review of Broken Harbour here, I thought to myself, all right, I must be missing something.  I mean, Broken Harbour is nominated for an award this year.  Why am I the only one who has difficulty with it?  What am I missing in this book?  Because, you see, I have a confession to make:  I both loved and hated this book.
                           

What I loved:
     Okay, Broken Harbour is brilliant in places.  I really liked the main character, Mick Kennedy, and his family.  His mother's madness and what it did to the family is one of the best pieces I have read on family secrets and how they destroy everyone from the inside out.  Mick's sense of needing to control everything comes from this.  His inability to work with anyone, and his desire to be in control in everything, especially in pursuing evidence and interviews, is insightful and clever.  This was the most gripping part of the book for me, the revelation through the book of Mick's family and what happened to them at Broken Harbour.

The mystery itself was really well done.  I couldn't take my eyes off the page.  There I was that Sunday in February, reading the book intently, planning with one part of my mind how long it would take me to read it in one sitting, and if anyone would mind if Sunday dinner were really late, say after 8 pm, so I could keep reading straight through to the end.  I did not want to stop. That's how good the first half is.  Then suddenly! Bam!

   There I sat, blinking dazedly in the dining table (where I do a lot of my reading when the family is home.)  What had just happened?  I was thrown out of the book at the point when Richie, Mick's new and young partner, and Mick are going through the chief suspect's home.  Richie finds something, but it is not until the end of the book that we learn what it is.  At the moment that he finds it, his sudden change of character shocked me.  It threw me out.  But it wasn't just that, it was as Mick gets the phone call pointing to more evidence that the husband is the killer.  I think I might have said out loud, "but he didn't!"  and  as I sat there in the dining room, I realized I was upset with the story.  It wasn't the husband.  It was the wife.  I knew it.  And I did something I haven't done in many many years: I read the ending, to see if I was right.

I eventually two days later went back and read the rest of the book.  I'm glad I did, because I saw the rest of what Mick had become and what happens in the investigation.  But the question I was left with was, how could the killer have done it?  I was shocked that I was suddenly out of the story like that.  Something wasn't right in the telling, and it's taken me most of these weeks to figure out what it was.

What I don't believe in the book:  
     This is what bothered me so much:  I kept waiting for someone in the family that is murdered, the mother or the father, to be revealed to have some history of mental illness or depression.  It was the only thing that made sense.  And it wasn't there.  The slow deterioration of the father, the wife's panic as their live unraveled: all well written and believable.  But neither person is shown to have any history of a slight break, depression, anything that would make what happened that night believable.

     What I really wanted, was for the mother to have had some kind of history, that would make what happened believable.  The husband's breakdown is so well-done. That's what economic loss can do to someone who hasn't shown signs of any kind of problem coping before with setbacks.  It was the wife that bothered me. Not just what she did, but why she did it.

My confession:
      I have suffered from depression on and off in my life.  My family suffers from it. Anxiety, stress, and panic attacks.  We all have them.  So when I read about Mick and his family, the great terrible act, and the repercussions on the characters, what happens to each family member is note perfect. I haven't lived through such a terrible event, but there are scars in my family from what depression has done and is doing to all of us.  So this part was gripping and I couldn't look away. It's one of the best accounts of madness and suicide that I have come across in fiction.  Which is why I wanted the same kind of depth or understanding with the murderer, to understand why the act was committed.

It is only today, reading Lesley's fun post and all the comments, and thinking over everyone's general acclaim of this book, that I was able to understand that I wanted the wife to suffer from depression too.  That would have made what happened next in the story, absolutely believable, and so much more horrifying than it already is in the novel.  Because then the breakdown of Ireland's society would fully impact on the broken, the ones least able to protect themselves, and the most vulnerable first. Though I suspect that Tana French wanted to show how the breakdown in the economy could affect normal people,  by which I mean healthy people who don't suffer from mental illness.  I think (and thought while reading it) in this story, why didn't the wife just pick up the kids and leave?  So what if she couldn't admit their live wasn't perfect?  Is that excuse enough to do what she  did?  Or why not get her husband the help he needed?  I know why she did it, on the surface it makes sense:  the whole family was getting infected by the husband's madness.  But in the secret places of the mind, where darkness and struggle really live, this book lacks that resonance for me in the wife's story.  I much more believe in Mick's family than I do in what the wife in the victim's family did to hers.

As a breakdown of a seemingly normal family, it is good.  I can see why this book is garnering praise.  It just doesn't fully ring true.  I wish it did.  I wish I didn't know what I know about depression, too.....

So, it's a brilliant mystery novel that mostly succeeds.

Do you agree? Disagree?  Did you love this novel?  Did anyone have any difficulty with it like I did?

Other reviews:
Bibliophile by the Sea
Hey Lady! Whatcha Reading?
Rhapsody in Books
S.Krishna's Books
An Adventure in Reading

If you have read it, please let me know and I'll link to it.


15 comments:

Kathleen said...

I definitely want to read this one. I always like to understand the motivation of characters and they have to ring true to me or the book loses its luster for me so I will be interested to see what I think about this one.

Susan said...

Kathleen: So far I am in the real minority! lol I'm curious what you will think. Have you read any others by her? I have mixed feelings - I enjoy them, though I also don't like the lack of conclusion in them. There is a definite theme emerging in her work, that is interesting too. I'm glad I've read them all.

Kay said...

OK, so I don't have my book anymore and can't refer back to it, but I felt that the wife did have a kind of madness. I think being so caught up in "being perfect" or in living up to some artificial standard that one feels that others set is a creepy way to live. Not like depression and the signs of that illness, but maybe even more debilitating in some ways because the scars and wounds are so carefully hidden from the world. Actually, I think all the characters exhibited a kind of madness, different from each other, but so very odd nonetheless.

I'm actually surprised that I like Tana French's books as well as I do. She is the queen of weird protagonists. Frank (of Faithful Place) was probably the most "normal" and one certainly couldn't consider his upbringing normal. Rob and Cassie were both truly strange.

I understand that Book #5, to be published next year, will have Stephen Moran (think that's the name), the cop that Frank used as a source for keeping up with Scorcher's investigation, will be the main protagonist. Also, that Frank's daughter, Holly, will play a part. Can't wait!

Cath said...

I haven't read the book so can't comment on it at all I'm afraid. I read and adored In the Woods, I thought it was creepy and brilliant. I started to read the second book and it was reminding me too much of a similar book about students by Ruth Rendell and the Donna Tart book, the title of which eludes me right now, but also about students. So I gave up on it and haven't read anything else by Tana French. Probably my loss. An excellent post though, Susan, you always have such interesting and relevant observations to make.

Susan said...

Kay: For a while I thought that the wife's moment of madness would be enough, but what's scary is how that sounds reasonable, and what she does is so horrific. She loves those children. It doesn't make sense, and that's what I struggle with in the book. Though, I have thought like you did, that living perfect but not being it after all is a creepy way to live. I wonder if her coldness at the end was real, or a cover? It's such a horrible subject too, it was very difficult to read in the novel. It has really hit a spot in me, I think! You're right too, all the characters were mad in the end, except the one sister (I forget her name) of Mick's. I am awed by how Tana can write such flawed, vulnerable, self-deceiving heroes....I think madness is one of her themes re-occurring in her books. Weird you are right!

I am going to read number 5 when it comes out. She writes so well and convincingly. Even though I don't like the outcome of Broken Harbour, it was amzingly hard to put down. It's funny, but I don't think I've liked any of her main characters who tell the story, in her novels yet. I have yet to read the second one, but the idea of it is so preposterous (someone who looks exactly like Cass) that I can't bring myself to read it!

Cath: I just realized writing to Kay above that I haven't read the 2nd one either, it's the only one that I haven't read by French. And I can't because the idea of it - someone who looks like Cass - annoys me so much I don't want to read it! I hadn't realized the similarity to Tartt and Rendell, so that's good to know. I've liked her books, though I have to say I prefer the third one overall - A Faithful Place - the first one I hated the ending to (I like final endings, closure, in my mysteries). I hope you read Broken Harbour at some point, so I can see if I am perhaps a little crazy myself! lol being the only one who doesn't find it all believeable.....

Thanks for saying the comments were interesting! I really struggled with whether to do this post or not, for a long time. In the end I thought, I have a dissenting voice, and why not bring it up? :-) This is what I felt reading the book....who can say why we have the reactions we do to books, sometimes?

Cath said...

I'm pleased you did decide to do the post, Susan. I had no idea that depression was a problem for you and for members of your family. For me that means you have a special voice when reviewing a book like this and I *always* want to hear opinions that are relevant to what goes on in a book. It's all knowledge and that's what I live for. Thank you for being brave enough to tell your readers what you really think. I for one really appreciate it.

There's that saying isn't there, that no one person ever reads the same book. It's so true. We all have different experiences as we age and those experiences colour the effect books have on us.

I will certainly try to read Broken Harbour at some stage. You mention not having read book 2 as well, which means it's not strictly necessary for me to read it either. I'm not even sure that the Ruth Rendell or Donna Tart books were anything like the book 2 here, but the common denominator was students and I'd read enough about them that year to not want to read another one. I know that just sounds *too* silly but there you go. LOL!

Anne Simonot said...

Book 2, The Likeness, is my favourite of Tana French's books. Still haven't read Broken Harbour and I should have skipped your review, but I am sure it will still be a good read when I get to it.

Literary Feline said...

Okay, so now I have to read this one. You've got me really curious. I wonder if I will feel the same way you do, because I can see something like that bothering me.

It's interesting though, isn't it, how our own experiences and life situations can play a part in our enjoyment and perception of a book?

Susan said...

Cath: thank you for your kind words! It took me a little while to decide that I wanted it to be part of my review, because it was affecting how I reacted to the book. I still find it strange I had such a strong reaction to the book. I hope you do read it at some point. I won't be surprised if you enjoy it, too - I hope so. I'm curious about what you would think of it.

It's not often a book affects me like that, which as you say is interesting, and probably says a lot about me more than the book itself.

Anne: I hope, like with Cath above, that you do read Broken Harbour. I would be very interested in what you have to say about it.

I'm glad my review didn't ruin the book for you, I tried not to give too much direct spoilers out.

Literary Feline: Yes! Please do read it - though be careful, it's disturbing. Like Cath and Anne above, and Kathleen, I'm curious what you will find when you read it. Could be I'm in a minority of one! lol

Susan said...

I've read all of French's books and I have to say that although I liked BROKEN HARBOR, it's actually my least favorite of the bunch. But, that may be because I've read all the others and so this one felt a little formulaic.

Also, I totally agree with Kay. I think the thing that made this book so creepy was the fact that the wife DID NOT have any kind of depression/mental illness history. It came about slowly -- the less her life resembled what she thought it would once moving to this seemingly great neighborhood, the more she unraveled. It's a commentary on how destructive a "keeping up with the Jones'" attitude can be. I've seen it happen to plenty of people (although not to this degree, of course).

I do appreciate your words about depression. It's a condition I've never experienced nor understood, so it's interesting (and empathizing, if that's a word) to hear about it from an insider. So, thanks for sharing something so personal.

If you're interested, here's a link to my review of BROKEN HARBOR: http://www.blogginboutbooks.com/2012/10/the-girls-good-really-really-good.html

Susan said...

Susan: Thanks so much for your comments. I think that you and Kay have a valid point about the drive to be successful being her undoing, and yet I can't fathom why that would make her do what she did. That's such an extreme and violent and insane thing to do. If she did break, she didn't show signs of that deeper anger or despair that I would think would be what drove her. So I thank you and Kay for sharing your thoughts with me on this book.

I've read all but one of her books, and I think her third one - Faithful Place - is my favourite. I'm curious to see what she does next. I do enjoy her books, even though so few people in them are happy.

I am linking to your review, thanks for providing it :-)

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