Thursday, March 29, 2018

Book Review: The Beloveds

By Jami Deise

With books like You by Caroline Kepnes and Best Day Ever by Kaira Rouda, thriller readers are “enjoying” the experience of living in the mind of a male psychopath. A mini-genre whose best-known character may be Patricia Highsmith’s Tom Ripley, it tends to feature male protagonists, which makes sense: Psychopaths tend to be men. Or perhaps female psychopaths are much more clever, and do not get caught.

Elizabeth “Betty” Stash is a psychopath. The protagonist of Maureen Lindsay’s latest novel The Beloveds, Betty has always despised her younger sister, Gloria. Gloria is a “beloved” – a golden child grown into lucky adult, whom everyone loves and for whom life can do no wrong. These lucky people are all around Betty, and she hates every one of them. Betty tips her hat to the reader when she tells of drowning her sister’s kitten as a young child—a clear sign of psychopathy.

Yet, unlike the psychopaths in the books above, it’s not too difficult to see Betty’s side of the story at times. The sisters are now grown up, and Gloria is married to Henry, whom she stole from Betty. Her best friend is Alice, who was once Betty’s best friend. Gloria and Henry are living rent-free with the sisters’ mother in their English estate, whom Betty has named and whose voice she hears talking to her. (The house only calls her Elizabeth, never Betty.) Betty loves this house the way Scarlett O’Hara loved Tara, and Gloria and Henry take it for granted, leaving messes everywhere. Even though Betty is married to Bert and lives with him in a London apartment, her true home is in this English village.

So when the women’s mother dies and leaves the estate to Gloria, Betty is destroyed. And while Gloria, too, is grief-stricken about her mother, she seems to feel entitled to the estate by virtue of Betty’s London address. Gloria quickly announces she’s pregnant, which seems to cement her entitlement to the estate even further. And while Gloria seems happy enough to have her sister hanging out all the time, Henry and Alice make it clear that they think Betty should hightail it back to London and leave the expectant couple at peace in their home.

As Betty fumes, Gloria and Henry decide to have a clown painted on the wall of their baby’s nursery. They decide to completely remodel the house and throw out their mother’s keepsakes, calling her a packrat.

Sometimes, Betty is not the only one who wants to kill these people.

But as much as I enjoyed the first half of the novel and wanted to see Betty vindicated in some way, I found my attention lagging in the second half. Betty is no Tom Ripley, even though she reads Ripley’s Game in a scene. The book becomes episodic and the pacing erratic. Betty becomes a drunk, and much less self-aware. She may be seeing things. The events in the book unfold over years, and the story doesn’t end as much as stop. As a fan of contemporary thrillers, these shortcomings irritated me. Still, I stuck it out till the end.

However, the book’s publishers are comparing it to Rebecca, and describing it as gothic fiction rather than horror. Approached in that manner, other readers may find the novel’s second half just as gripping as the first.

Thanks to Gallery for the book in exchange for an honest review.

More by Maureen Lindley:

1 comment:

Dianna said...

I've been reading this genre a lot lately. I'd like to read The Beloveds!