Death and the Seaside – Alison Moore – Audible Book Review by Pat V.
From its title, Death and the Seaside, you would be forgiven for thinking that Alison Moore’s latest novel might be a crime story in the style of Agatha Christie (or even Agatha Raisin!) but this is a darker and altogether different, type of book. Her first novel, The Lighthouse, an unsettling story of complex family relationships, was short-listed for the Man Booker Prize in 2012. In Death and the Seaside, family also plays an important role but the story focuses more on the strange and sinister friendship that develops between the central character, Bonnie, and her landlady.
We first meet Bonnie on the eve of her thirtieth birthday, an abandoned university degree behind her and unable to hold down any job for long. She is a loner, working as a cleaner at an animal laboratory by day, and spends her evenings writing stories which she is never able to complete. Her parents consider her a failure and, finally, insist that she leave the family home and try to make something of her life. She moves into a small flat and meets the owner, Sylvia. At first she is flattered by the interest Sylvia takes in her but soon it becomes apparent that things are not as they seem and that there is a disquieting element to this friendship which Bonnie does not understand.
While Moore keeps us guessing till the last few pages about what exactly is going on, it is impossible not to feel that she is is trying to prove a thesis rather than create characters of flesh and blood. The many extracts from treatises on psychology let us know what she wants to illustrate and she then seems to manipulate her characters to prove her point. Even in the choice of the characters’ surnames, Bonnie Falls and Sylvia Slythe, we are given clues to their respective roles and the repeated references to Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca, comparing Sylvia to the sinister housekeeper, Mrs Danvers, takes away any doubt of the role she will play in this novel.
The reader, Imogen Church, does her best with a cast of characters who often border on caricature. It is hard to believe that Bonnie, who completed several years at university, could be quite so witless and unaware of what is going on around her. For the reader there is certainly little doubt and this takes away from the tension we should feel as the story develops. Bonnie’s horrible parents could have escaped from Roald Dahl’s Matilda, and Church’s brash portrayal of them doesn’t make them any more believable.
Moore’s novel is original and imaginative but her presentation is heavy-handed and this is a subject that deserves a more subtle and lighter touch.
The audiobook is available from audible.co.uk and lasts 5h14mins.