"Good Me Bad Me" Ali Land
It is impossible to ignore this cover - it's so eye-catching and totally implies this book is going to be dark, complex and psychologically thrilling. I was desperate to read it as soon as I saw it appearing on Twitter and NetGalley -especially as the promise of a really high quality thriller continued with the inciting strap line that "Good Me, Bad Me" was......
SET TO BE ONE OF THE MOST EXTRAORDINARY, CONTROVERSIAL AND EXPLOSIVE DEBUTS OF 2017!
And I totally agree, I really think it is. This is an unnerving, unsettling, eerie read with a protagonist who is truly psychologically fascinating. The suspense and tension created from this fresh, original and disturbing voice will absolutely delight and terrify fans of "Grip Lit" - and, as the publishers suggest, it will make a perfect choice for a reading group as Land has created a character you will want to talk about as soon as you've finished the last sentence!
Here's a bit of the blurb to entice you further or if you prefer, the official trailer.......
'NEW N A M E .
NEW F A M I L Y.
S H I N Y.
ME . '
Annie's mother is a serial killer. The only way she can make it stop is to hand her in to the police. But out of sight is not out of mind. As her mother's trial looms, the secrets of her past won't let Annie sleep, even with a new foster family and name - Milly. A fresh start. Now, surely, she can be whoever she wants to be.
But Milly's mother is a serial killer. And blood is thicker than water.
Good me, bad me. She is, after all, her mother's daughter...
The opening pages firmly place the reader inside the mind of Milly. Her short statements, blunt observations, economical use of language and jolting punctuation create a unique voice of a troubled teenager who seems distracted, distant and on edge. This is really effective in presenting a character who is complicated from the first line. We can't immediately relate to her; we want to feel sympathy for her but somehow feel held back as the narrative is so controlled and sparse. This is a child who we want to feel sympathy for, we want to rescue and redeem but something niggles away - some little sense of unease that nags you not to rush too quickly into taking her under your wing.
The use of 'you' is also really effective as it pulls us straight into the story, almost like an accomplice. Although Milly is actually talking to her mother, there is an intimacy created through this directness which shows the reader that Milly is caught in a complete dilemma about how she should feel towards her mother and to what extent she is still being controlled by her.
Forgive me when I tell you it was me.
It was me that told.
The detective. A kindly man, belly full and round.
I liked the way Milly described her visit to the police station to confess the crimes of her mother. For a young girl who has witnessed such atrocities and who has taken themselves to the police station to report their own mother, there seems something very cool and detached about her voice.
Come now, he said. You need to hear this. The silence waiting for his superior to arrive. Bearable for me. Less so for him.
I found this eerie and unnerving. It also raised lots of questions in my mind about Milly's role in what had happened and whether I should feel sorry for her or be wary of her - a question which Land made sure the reader kept asking all the way through the novel. From the beginning there are little comments which make the reader wonder about the relationship between Milly and her mother and I did have to reread a few sentences in that kind of blink-and-you'll-miss-a-vital-clue kind of way.
You said nothing to them, yet everything to me. I nodded.
But only when no one was watching.
It was a brilliant way of keeping me completely hooked to see how the story would play out.
So Milly is sent to live with Mike, Saskia and their daughter Phoebe. Milly is terrified of being "found out"; she is scared of finding out what she might be as well as being found out by the family - although what might be found out is left ambitious and to the imagination of the reader. Land builds great suspense from this fear that Milly herself seems to be frightened of herself. What is it that she is frightened of? What is it that she's worried about them finding out? What is it that scares her about herself so much? Especially now her mother is locked up behind bars.
The voice of Milly continues in its very distinctive style. Initially I did wonder that despite admiring the author's skill in creating such a clever narrative voice, could it sustain itself throughout the whole novel or would it become too jarring? Would the novelty wear off? But actually, Milly's voice becomes strangely addictive. I couldn't always identify with her, I didn't always like her but ultimately she was so fascinating I could not keep away from her.
Glances, I work hard to decipher them, harder than most. My psychologist at the unit enlightened me. You may have a compromised ability to read emotions, he said. He meant: my mind does not function the same way an average person's does.
Milly is articulate and I liked the way she reported things from her sessions with psychologists, doctors and therapists. At times her voice reminded me of some of the most famous dysfunctional characters in literary fiction and I think it's a real credit to Land that she has brought Milly to life with such authenticity and conviction.
There are many indications that Milly has had a hideous time. There are references to sleepless nights, inappropriate touch, violation and a darkly chilling metaphor about a snake to convey the horrors her mother subjected her to and the level of indoctrination and control.
I've managed to keep your nighttime visits a secret so far. The fact you come as a snake, underneath the door. Up into my bed. Lie your scaly body next to mine, measure me. Remind me I still belong to you.
However, the crimes of Milly's mother are never fully articulated and for this I was very grateful. There was no need for Land to gratuitously add details or in fact fully clarify what had happened. In fact, I think this made the book more successful, more compelling, more edgy and actually perpetuated more fear and horror within my mind. The fact that the mother is such a huge character but remains without a voice, without her own narrative and almost completely anonymous is incredibly powerful. This is a book which is truly psychologically disturbing because of the thoughts and rationalisations the character shares with us; because of the glimpse into the workings of their mind rather than the crime scene and destruction they have run from. As Milly says when Mike talks about using hypnotherapy to 'unlock her':
Better left locked, I wanted to tell him.
Just as Milly's voice is vivid so too are the other characters in the book. I think the most captivating character aside from Milly is definitely Phoebe. There were times I loved to hate her, times when I admired her front, times when I winced at her cruelty and times at which I felt her pain. She's as complex and as damaged as Milly.
On a more lighter note, I also particularly liked the description of the Art Teacher:
"A corduroy skirt, a paisley shirt, a walking project not quite finished, the kind of chaotic style you'd hate, Mummy. Colours and layers. Layers and colours. Hands twist around each other, oversized rings clink and collide, dodgem cars."
Milly's attitude towards adults is quite derisory. She seems to be able to see Saskia's failings and flaws better than anyone else. She seems to see the fallibility in Mike's therapy sessions but at the same time her desperation to be accepted and part of a real family reveal her true age and true needs.
Mike is an interesting character; a man who means well, has good intentions, wants to help but at the same time there are moments when it is so obvious that he is unable to see the issues within his own family and own relationship. But the more you read on the more you wonder whether he is a victim or a villain. In fact, at the end of the book this is the most burning question I have - who is the victim and who is the villain? How much are all the characters to blame / responsible for the events? Who do we believe? Who do we trust?
All I know is I really enjoyed this read and was hugely impressed by the author's writing. Land's has managed to construct a very disturbing and complex character with a voice that will send chills down your spine long after you've finished the last line. There is something deliciously dark and truly thrilling about this novel. Read it. If you dare.
"Good Me Bad Me" will be published on 12th January 2017 by Michael Joseph.
For more recommendations and reviews you can follow me on twitter @katherinesunde3 (bibliomaniacuk)