Leon's partner died in his bath, and although the police report said she took her own life... she didn't.
When he meets Margot, overweight, lacking in confidence and recently separated, he sees an opportunity. Her life's a mess. Who better to help her put it back together than a man who's recovering from his own girlfriend's tragic demise?
There's something about the blurb to this book that seems to suggest that it's tending towards a romance. If that's what you're looking for, you might want to consider your options. Whilst we're talking relationship here, we're also talking manipulation, need, dependencies and some really really nasty behaviour.
It's not just the possibility of overt romance that could put a reader off - there's Margot herself. At the beginning of the book she's starting out after a relationship that obviously controlled her, set her life's path. She comes across as one of those slightly wet women - shy, self-conscious, little bit overweight, somebody who is finally starting to take some control of her own life until she meets yet another man. Leon is obviously a shady character, and there's a strange sensation that there can only be one reason why a man like him would be intested in a woman like her. There's a dreadful feeling of the inevitable about the whole thing.
But something happens as you press on into this book, at some stage you start to get a sneaking suspicion that something's not quite as it originally seems. Your perceptions of everybody and everything are slowly twisted, gently rolled sideways.
CLOSE-UP sort of snuck up on me a bit, in the early stages I was fully expecting to dislike it, the premise, Leon, Margot and just about everybody else in the thing. Somewhere along the line something changed and, to be brutally honest, I've still got absolutely no idea how this author did that. It's not the fastest paced thriller in the world, it is almost laconic in a way - perhaps that's part of the way that things sort of sneak up on you, but add to that an ending that I simply did not see coming and CLOSE-UP was quite a surprise package.
SHADOW SISTER - Simone van der Vlugt
Lydia and Elisa, twin sisters, identical in appearance, different in every other way.
SHADOW SISTER is the second book translated into English from Dutch author Simone van der Vlugt. Both standalones, this one is the story of twins Lydia and Elisa, as the blurb puts it - identical in appearance, different in every other way.
Starting out on a particularly dramatic note, the book opens with Lydia being threatened with a knife by one of her students. From there, and there's really no other way to explain how this book works, except to say that the book is about the events that led up to Lydia's murder. Each sister has a voice, her own perspective about their relationship, each other, their parents, Lydia's husband, her fellow teachers at school, Elisa's friends, her job, her life.
The style is really quite unusual, and once you settle into the voices of the two sisters, any slight feeling of confusion disappears and the contrasting ways that the sisters see the world becomes increasingly stark. It's also easy to see how, despite a natural feeling of sympathy for Lydia - who you know has died, there's a subtle switching of emotional reaction as it becomes increasing obvious that Lydia has dominated Elisa. All the while, Lydia's own "perfect" life is not as controlled as she has made it out to be.
There are some rather heavy-handed "lessons" sprinkled throughout the narrative, with the student that threatens Lydia being a Muslim, and the school that she teaches in catering mostly for immigrants and their children. Lydia loves her work, and wants to keep teaching despite her husband's keenness to have her join him in his successful software development company. Perhaps the first sign of a chink in Lydia's personal armour is the dawning sense that there's something slightly smug and self-satisfied about her desire to keep teaching in a difficult environment.
There are some fascinating aspects to this varying perspectives that unfortunately are somewhat let down by an ending that lacked that sense of analysis and reflection. Whilst there's nothing wrong in the actual resolution, and on one level it could of made sense, unfortunately it's rushed, sketchy and odd. Given that there were these two tremendous voices - these sisters who do shadow each other, who seemingly see everything totally different, through eyes that are identical (which is a fascinating sort of an idea), come the need to solve the crime, somebody was stumped up as the perpetrator, a bit of a story woven around them and the whole thing done and dusted in a few pages. Didn't quite work. Which is a pity as the lead up that short, sharp disappointing resolution was really good.