The Woman in the Library by Sulari Gentill (Mystery)

Writing: 4/5 Plot: 5/5 Characters: 4/5

A three-layer nested story merging a murder mystery, the evolution of friendships, and some fascinating insight into a writer’s process.

Australian Hannah Tigon is a writer, and in a semi-epistolary shell to the novel, she writes a chapter which is followed by detailed feedback and comments from an e-colleague living in Boston where her story is set. These comments get stranger and stranger as the book evolves. In the story itself, Winifred Kincaid (Freddie) is also a writer — trying to get some work done in the Boston Library when a bloodcurdling scream is heard. She — and the three others nearby — form a friendship after the scream as they try to figure out what happened. In the third layer of the story, she bases her characters on these three new friends.

Twisted. Engaging. Quite well written in the spare, thoughtful style that I like. The story is told from Freddie’s first person perspective and her internal dialog is clever, colorful and full of insight into a writer’s thoughts. I found it interesting that she presented some un-PC perspectives such as a white author bemoaning the fact that he never got to benefit from white privilege (see quote) and took an interesting perspective on race — never telling us the race of the characters while simultaneously being harangued for same by the man sending her feedback.

A few interesting quotes:

“I open my mouth to explain, to assure him that I’m a writer, not a leering harasser, but of course this is the reading room, and one does not conduct a defense while people are trying to read. I do attempt to let him know I’m just interested in him as the physical catalyst for a character I’m creating, but that’s too complex to convey in mime.”

“But they all smile while they talk — that’s the difference I think, that’s what makes it American. Australians don’t seem to be able to smile and talk at the same time — unless they’re lying, of course.”

“I write her terror gently, allowing what is unsaid to carry the narrative, aware that overt emotion could well move the story into melodrama.”

“The reality is, I suppose, that I am a straight white man with no diversity disadvantage to offer as a salve for the fashionable collective guilt that rules publishing. I understand that popular correctness demands that men like me be denied to compensate for all the years in which we were given too much. I just wish I’d had a chance to enjoy a little of that privilege before it became a liability.”

“I’m not sure if they have more information or if it is simply an inevitable evolution of sensationalism.”

“Cain smiles at me, and the fact that he’s handsome is again very salient.”

“New, but already beloved, wrapped in the excited crush of friendship’s beginning, untarnished by the annoyances, disappointments, and minor betrayals which come with the passing of time.”

Thank you to Poisoned Pen Press and NetGalley for providing an advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. The book will be published on June 7th, 2022.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: