So, I’d never heard of this book until I saw a trailer for the movie, but that 45-second clip was enough for me to add the book to my holds list at the library. As you can tell by my rating, I wasn’t thrilled with the book, but I’ll try to explain why (and I’ll even begin trying to do so without spoilers!)
First of all, I had to wait for ages to get my hands on the book (for all the wonders of the public library, being on hold for 18 weeks for a book is kind of a bummer). So it’s possible that I wasn’t in the best of mindsets when I began reading. Keeping that in mind, I still had many issues with the novel.
The first was that way more of it was in French than I was anticipating, which I realize is a specific complaint, but I promise that I’m going somewhere with this. After conducting a cursory Google investigation it is my understanding that the book was originally written in English (Jensen is an English writer), so it confuses me how often characters speak in French or passages are given in French. While the story takes place in France (so the French isn’t entirely surprising), I still found it frustrating the amount of text that wasn’t in English but for which there was no given translation. If you speak French this won’t be an issue for you, but I found it irritating that I had to keep turning to the internet to translate. And the worst part? Some of the information given by characters in French is either plot important or gives hints to the plot twist, so I caught on quickly to the fact that I couldn’t just skip over the language that I didn’t understand.
My second complaint is that the ending was not much of a surprise. Without giving too much away, the “plot twist” was not much of twist, and I had the perpetrator pegged within the first few pages (or… close enough that it wasn’t a substantial reveal). The final wrap-up was also not satisfactory, so it felt as if the book didn’t really go anywhere, which can be frustrating when you invest time into a book.
Perhaps my biggest criticism was that the character of Pascal Dannachet was not successful as written. He was neither an unreliable narrator, since he has only two-dimensional flaws that were not fully explored, nor was he a relatable or likable character. The only feeling I had about him was apathy. This might have been interesting when set in contrast to the other narrator, the deeply disturbed Louis Drax himself, but I never managed to get more than a fleeting grasp of who Louis was as a character outside of stereotypes and statements apparently written for shock factor. What might have been more interesting would be to read it as an investigative police piece, rather than from the supernatural/medical standpoint from which it is actually written.
But now that I have complained, let me talk about some of the reasons I read the book to the end, rather than chucking it across the room (besides the fact that it was an ebook!). But beware! Here be some SPOILERS!…
My favorite thing was that Louis doesn’t wake up at the end. He ‘chooses’ to stay in his ninth life dream/coma to avoid reality, and I think this was an excellent decision on the part of the author. It would have been too miraculous if Louis woke up, and with the supernatural elements already present elsewhere in the novel, it strengthens the realism for the rest of the book. I also loved Mr. Drax’s characterization, which is seen only from the point of view of Louis. It’s clear that Mr. Drax loves his (adopted) son, and struggles with his wife. Yet at the same time, it’s murky whether or not he knew what his wife was doing, although it is implied he might have suspected something at the end. I also loved how quickly Perez jumped on the supernatural bandwagon (no reason for this, I just found that chapter funny and thought it deserved a call out).
AND WHAT ABOUT THE MOVIE? The movie version of this book is INCREDIBLE! 10/10 (9/10? Either way I highly recommend you watch it). The story was told so much better in this format, and the additions and changes made it a much better story. Also, the supernatural elements that I’ve mentioned a few times already came across so much more clearly with the visual format, so while the book seemed like a medical story with some weird twists, the movie felt like a supernatural story that took place in a hospital (which to me was far more interesting). Also, I’m SO GLAD they removed the fire. While the forest fires added intrigue and tension to the plot of the book, the movie didn’t need this added element; it was tense and heart wrenching all on its own. The acting by Louis’ actor was perfect, and Jamie Dornan did an ok job. The visuals were stunning, the score was great… I don’t have much to say in the negatives. I do have one question; why was the setting altered and the characters’ names changed? Not a criticism, but a genuine question. Anyway, ta for now!