Familiar by J Robert Lennon

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Familiar by J Robert Lennon

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A clever trick of a book that opens up marriage and self-knowing in a thriller fashion, making this slightly weird-seeming look at one woman's identity very intriguing indeed.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 224 Date: August 2013
Publisher: Serpent's Tail
ISBN: 9781846689475

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Is there a greater change in the life of a middle-aged woman than the death of her teenage son? Elisa might have thought not, having been forced to bury fifteen year old Silas, and try and move on with her husband Derek and the year-older son, Sam. But a greater change occurs on the way back from her annual, solo pilgrimage to his grave – something very weird happens to the universe. She pops from one car to another, from under a cloudless sky to a slightly greyer one – and from her self as Elisa to a world where people call her Lisa, where she is plumper, in a different job, stiil married to Derek in the same home – but still the mother of two young men…

This has all the trappings of a thriller – a fish out of water heroine, short rapidly-arriving chapters, mystery. But it clearly is a whole lot more. Elisa-as-Lisa has a whole lot of change to reconcile herself with – she and Derek are in therapy for something, but not bereavement counselling; her world here might seem more successful, despite her extra pounds in weight; her real-world lover is still here but ignorant of what has gone on elsewhere. And, of course, she has to retune to motherhood of two. The title is a perfectly chosen one, highlighting the themes of how much couples know each other, how much life changes at the great landmarks that befall it, and how much control one side of a happy marital partnership one person could ever hope to have.

It might look a particular world of marriage that isn't really in tune with a British reader – of course the couple have marital guidance, for example. But this really does hit universal themes of alienation, disconnect within families and more, and although it is unusual in having a male author, I cannot help but put it in with the current publishing hot potato of literary, excoriating thrillers such as Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn et al, with a family right from Lionel Shriver. If only it were a fraction as successful as either.

Knowing the themes as I've outlined them really is no spoiler, either, in this kind of book. The present tense grips the reader to the page and completely within Elisa/Lisa's life(s), as the unknowns she focuses on feature several different kinds of alternate universes. The book reeks of intrigue, both in the domestic set-ups and in the whys and wherefores. And, forgetting how close it gets to thriller or sci-fi, it does remain a clever, entertaining, general read that is very much, ultimately, open to interpretation. For once a clever, arty premise has delivered in literary spades, while remaining engaging and open to the end, and this really is a title worth recommending.

I must thank the kind Serpent's Tail people for my review copy.

Another Lennon book we heartily enjoyed was Castle, as well as See You In Paradise. More more burgeoning female realisation, we loved The Gallery of Vanished Husbands by Natasha Solomons. You might also get a lot out of Inside by Alix Ohlin. You might also appreciate The Tell-Tale Heart by Jill Dawson.

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Buy Familiar by J Robert Lennon at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Familiar by J Robert Lennon at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy Familiar by J Robert Lennon at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Familiar by J Robert Lennon at Amazon.com.


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