mystery

Who makes bestsellers best-selling?

Long time no review. So long, in fact, that WordPress updated its UI.

This is my review of Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng. As the title of this blogpost suggests, it’s a pretty popular recent novel (released 2014). After seeing it name-dropped everywhere, I Googled it and found some excerpts. It seemed like an interesting light read, so here we are.

It is the story of a teenaged girl, Lydia Lee, who goes missing one day in her hometown in Ohio. We’re told almost immediately that she is dead, and we follow her family as they come to terms with the loss and the secrets that are revealed. In typical thriller style, the narrative has flashbacks interleaved with the current events (that is, the police investigation and her parents’ grief). Her parents have their own backstories- their inter-racial marriage triggered them both to leave their dreams by the wayside and dedicate themselves to average, small-town life. Lydia bore the burden of these failures, apparently, and this shaped her personality and brief life.

My first impression- interesting, light read- was correct.  The narrative touches on several themes- interracial relationships, “tiger parents”, peer pressure, homosexuality. It is reasonably good at keeping the reader interested, though this could be attributed to the short length and not the narrative (this took me just a couple of hours to read!).

But apart from these positives, I honestly couldn’t find the appeal of this book.

Firstly, Ng has turned the Asian Tiger Parent and inter-racial marriage stereotypes on their heads by having an Asian father and a white mother, with the mother being the pushy parent. In reality, the opposite is much more common- Asian mother, white father, and the Asian parent is the task master. Apparently the author herself is in an inter-racial marriage, so it seems odd that she chose to write about a different dynamic- is it because of her own baggage? The LGBT subplot also seemed a bit insensitive, and seemed like it was shoehorned in as a plot twist.

Secondly, every single character in this book is extremely unlikeable. Maybe I’m naive, but I like to believe that when people do wrong things, it’s because they either justify it to themselves or because they don’t really stop to consider what they’re doing. The people in this book are downright awful to each other for no particular reason, and on occasion stop being awful, again for no particular reason.

Overall, 2/5 just for its sheer readability. I read it in two sittings, and it suited my fried attention span perfectly.

Whodunnit?

This is my review of Serial, the podcast researched and narrated by Sarah Koenig.

This podcast has a novel premise- it’s a serialized presentation of the narrator’s investigation of a real life murder. So the events aren’t presented linearly, like a story; facts are revealed in the order that Koenig uncovered them. This is interesting because the murder took place fifteen years before this inquiry began. Many memories are blurred, witnesses must be tracked down, and the accused’s main defense lawyer has died!

The case itself is deceptively simple. Hae Min Lee, a high school student in Maryland, USA, goes missing. A few weeks later her body is found in a park. Suspicion falls squarely on her ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed. His friend, Jay, claims that he was a witness to Adnan’s planning and execution of this murder, right down to digging the grave. So where’s the loophole, you ask? Jay is inconsistent; the details of his story change drastically each time he tells it. New eyewitness statements also make it seem difficult for Adnan to have committed his crime within the time frame.

Adnan Syed was convicted of the murder of Hae Min Lee, and is in prison at the time the podcast was recorded. A desperate plea from a family friend of his got Koenig involved in the case. In the absence of forensic evidence, Koenig’s hunt feels similar to those of Miss Marple or Hercule Poirot- cross-question, judge character and put all the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle together.

But I do have some issues with Serial. For one, Koenig seems biased towards Adnan almost from the very beginning. She describes him as charming, and expresses doubt that a person so nice could be responsible for a cold blooded murder. Secondly, there is no satisfactory conclusion to the investigation. The only evidence for or against Adnan is purely circumstantial and wouldn’t stand up in a court of law. So however convincing you and I find the arguments presented, the case remains the same.

4/5. Listen if you like whodunnits and Agatha Christie-esque investigations. Avoid if your curiosity  tends to get the better of you.