PS, may contain minor spoilers.
Moretti’s thriller The Vanishing Year has been praised for its twists and turns specifically. There are a lot of people who were really impressed with this book, but sadly, I’m not one of them.
Zoe is a thirty year old woman living the life of a rich socialite; she’s married to successful businessman Henry Whittaker and lives in the lap of luxury with a constant stream of expensive clothing and jewellery her husband likes to present her with. Having left behind her previous identity and taken on a new name, she attempts to fill her rich but hollow life with charitable causes, all the while unable to mentally escape from the life she left behind. She’s on a search for her birth mother, which is in some ways the impetus that sets off the chain of events in A Vanishing Year. Her husband after a courtship of a quick four months disapproves, and she is soon caught in the chaos of her discarded old life coming back to collide with her glamorous new one.
First off, I should say this book was largely a dull, trudge-through read for me. Moretti’s prose is clear and even concisely descriptive (if such a thing is possible), but the pacing moves at something of a snail’s pace until the last fourth of the book. Not ideal for a domestic suspense novel being marketed as an edgy thriller. The relationship between Henry and Zoe is near-close to textbook abusive, which is evident right from the start. However events unfold in the rest of the novel, their relationship is as dysfunctional as it gets, something Zoe appears to be half-aware of, but placates herself into accepting. Moretti is quick and keen to invest Henry’s character with a kind of perfection that is excessive; handsome, endlessly wealthy, devoted, he’s almost like a leading man in a romance film. Except he’s sickeningly controlling. The result is that most of his scenes with Zoe are charactererised by a jarring incongruity where you keep waiting for him to do something awful (or, I should say, worse).
As a character, Zoe is difficult to place, and not as well-sketched as I’d like. She makes decisions in fits and starts, angry and accepting, full of suspicion but reluctant to act. In this I’m reluctant to judge her as a clear victim in an abusive relationship, but the result is that she makes for a flat character who is difficult to pin down (and not in a good way). She is mercurial in mood and action and despite the novel being told in her first person narrative, I feel like I actually know very little about her and what she really wants. The only character I did somewhat appreciate was Evelyn, Zoe’s adoptive mother, who doesn’t actually put in an appearance, but primarily appears through Zoe’s memories. She’s interesting and dynamic, if a little bit strangely flawless (in some ways) and contradictory. She’s at least mildly intriguing as a charcter, which I can’t really say of the others.
The plot. Sigh. I could predict the biggest twist once I had enough information at my disposal, although I’m not sure whether this is due to my consistent unhealthy appetite for bad mystery thrillers. After that, it was pretty much easy to tell where the plot was going, and nothing really surprised me in the whole novel. It could just be me, although I’m a pretty lazy reader. Moretti also left certain gaps which irked me, she explained most of the big things but some details were just scattered on the way and left unthreaded. The whole novel felt kind of weakly-structured and I was left with a lot of questions at the end. A lot of things felt irrelevant when the novel built up to the ultimate reveal. Not that I think that all novels need to abide by the Chekhov’s Gun rule, but I felt like I’d wasted my time a bit, reading about relationships and conversations which had no place in the last couple chapters as the novel wrapped up.
Ideas are infallible, people are not. Don’t confuse the two.
The novel as a whole just didn’t interest me. For the first half I kept wondering why things were so placid and calm for a relationship so messed up, I kept waiting for Moretti to pull the rug out and turn everything totally topsy-turvy. But ultimately it’s probably that my expectations were too high. I stuck with the book because it got such good reviews, but Moretti spent entirely too much time building on characters and relationships, all heavily messed up without the need for any kind of surplus dramatic interruption. When something bad happens it’s pretty much anticipated already.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s difficult, I’m sure, to build a believable but unpredictable plot these days with a new families-with-secrets domestic mystery-drama being published every second. Every other book’s the new Gone Girl. And this probably speaks to the fact that I’ve been reading too many of them. But still, while I think Moretti made an admirable attempt, for me, this just didn’t work as a thriller/mystery.
Apologies if this review is a bit all over the place, I stupidly didn’t make notes while reading. Didn’t actually expect to review this, but ah well.
All quotes attributed to the respective work.