Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Book review: Beautiful Malice

Beautiful Malice
There's a very good reason why the name Alice rhymes with malice...

Beautiful Malice by Rebecca James (Faber and Faber)
Katherine Patterson moves to a new city and looks forward to living a quiet life without any prying eyes. Following a tragedy that leaves her family devastated, all Katherine wants to do is live a life without attracting the kind of attention that she and her family were once recipients of.

Enter Alice Parrie. Beautiful, charming, engaging party-animal Alice.
 
When Alice starts paying an extraordinary amount of attention to Katherine, it's hard for Katherine not to be flattered.  And why shouldn't she be? After all, Alice is one of the most popular girls at school and her irrepressible charm and wit are potently irresistible to most who know her.

Much to Katherine's surprise, the two soon become firm friends and Katherine finally begins to feel as if she can start living a little again.

Of course, it doesn't take long to realise that being friends with Alice is a lot more complex than she thought it would be and the more she gets to know her, the more she discovers that Alice is not a very nice girl.  In fact, Alice is sometimes mean. And selfish. And occasionally very, very cruel.

Soon, one thing becomes apparent: that the more she tries to pull away, the more she discovers that if there is one thing Alice dislikes more than anything in the world, it's being cast off.

Because no one rejects Alice.

Especially if she knows more about you than you think she does.

My thoughts?

I've had this book in my shelf for quite some time now, but have to admit that I was initially very hesitant to read this.

For one, the orange cover reminded me too much of a trashy Jackie Collins novel which immediately made me think that this was going to be just another book that disappears in the chick-lit maelstrom; and secondly, the cover also didn't really give me any kind of clue as to just what kind of atmosphere I could be expecting.

On the other hand, diving into a book without knowing all that much about it can also be an exercise in adventurous fun and is something that I've been finding myself do more than just a little often lately, so after my hesitance, I eventually just decided to stop wavering and to get on with the reading.

 Never in my entire life have I been more surprised (and intrigued) with a novel's contents. 

This book was and is incredibly transfixing, well-written and unbelievably absorbing. And I absolutely loved it.

The wonderful thing about this novel is that you are literally kept on the edge of your seat throughout the entire book. I don't give out 5 stars to a novel very easily, but when I do, there are very good reasons for me doing so.

And this book?  It's worth all its 5 stars and then some more.

And I'll tell you why.

Firstly, and I've mentioned it before, but I'll mention it again: The writing keeps you on the edge of your seat throughout the entire novel.

You can't help but read this book with a strong sense of impending doom.  Every time I turned a page, I was never sure whether something was going to happen or not. And because of that, I often found myself forced to go on because I just had to see what would happen next (Rebecca James is very, very good at taunting her readers that way).

From the moment you meet Alice, warning bells immediately go off.  True, she is thoroughly engaging, gregarious and friendly, but there is an inexplicable something off about her that tells you that you just can't trust her and often has you wishing that you could just shake Katherine and tell her to RUN, RUN, RUN and to do so as fast she can. 

To be perfectly honest, Alice really made my skin crawl, which is something that I haven't experienced with all that many book characters before - and it's herein that the brilliance of the novel shines through.

Rebecca James has managed to give an eerie and subtle maliciousness to her character that makes her far more sinister in character than your average and obvious villainous characters.
 
Oh, don't get me wrong. Alice is mean, alright.

But her meanness is characterised in such an insidiously sly manner that it at once makes you doubt whether or not she's malicious, while at the same time making you wish you could lock her up and remove her from Katherine.

She's an exhausting, draining and mentally unhinged character whose clinical coldness chilled me to the bone.  What's worse is that sometimes you almost don't know she's going to be mean until she strikes. 

I believe that it takes some serious skill conveying a character like that and it was one of the main reasons that I found this book so gripping.

As for Katherine, I couldn't help but be drawn to her. She's flawed, has secrets she'd rather not the world want to know and her grief about past events are incredibly palpable. Unfortunately for her, she may have just chosen the wrong school to attend, because as she quickly learns, the past has a nasty way of catching up with her.

What I also enjoyed was how the author flashes between past and present and the more I got to know the reasons behind why Katherine became the quiet and withdrawn girl she was, the more I found myself feeling so much empathy towards her, even though it was ultimately the bad decision that she made that acted as an added catalyst for the events that took place.

I found it very easy to guess what Alice's secret was halfway through the book and her ultimate revenge (at least what I considered her ultimate revenge) was the most shocking part of the novel for me. I wish I could say more, but I really don't want to spoil it for you.

What I also found very interesting in this novel is that at certain parts (and I can't reveal which parts), Rebecca actually switches to second person point of view.

Now I am no fan of second person point of view, but I almost got the feeling that she deliberately used this point of view to sort of "separate" the events that were taking place from Katherine. For me it felt like it was being used to convey an out of body experience and I found that it actually worked very well.

I could go on about the romance elements in the novel, but I don't even think I need to talk about Mick, Robbie and Philippa (who quickly become friends with Katherine) in order to make you want to read this novel. I believe I've already said it all.

But just in case you haven't heard me the first time: Go out and read it. It's one of the best I've read this year.

My rating: 5/ 5 stars

P.S. Am skipping out on today's WoW because I have so much review catching up to do! Will still be visiting and making my rounds though!

8 comments:

Cleverly Inked said...

Sounds like a pretty good one.

Lovely site! Glad I stumbled on to your gem.
Happy Blogging

Jenny said...

Oh 5 stars huh? Sounds like I definitely need to pick this one up. I love when characters are utterly absorbing and affect you in a way you weren't expecting. Loved your review!

Clover said...

Good to know this one's worth reading, I shall look out for it :)

Lucie said...

I loved this one, too, it really blew me away! Alice is one of the most evil characters I've ever come across, but she was still so intriguing with it!

GABY said...

I also loved this one. I think you manage to say everything important about this book, specially about Alice...she is so mean!

Leanna (Daisy Chain Book Reviews) said...

Beautiful Malice is a wonderful book, isn't it! When I first heard of it I just knew I'd love it, and I totally loved everything about this one. I wasn't impressed with the UK cover either, although I think the US and Australian covers are heaps better! Great review!

Lani Woodland said...

Wow. This sounds really good. Thank you for that great review. I'm adding to my TBR list. :)

Aisle B said...

Noting Beautiful Malice and for once I'm glad to hear that you took the plunge despite the misgiving's on its cover. 5 stars is quite a feat and what a glorious surprise when our expectations are surpassed.
Great review Tammy, I'll be looking for this one next.

PS Get yourself to the library and pick up The Hunger Games... I could kick myself in the head for having ignored it. Finished a marathon reading session with this series and WOW! Write up tomorrow.