The Double Bind by Chris Bohjalian

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The Double Bind by Chris Bohjalian

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Elaine Dingsdale
Reviewed by Elaine Dingsdale
Summary: A gripping and tense psychological thriller full of twists and turns. The writing is excellent and characterisation good. It comes highly recommended by Bookbag.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 384 Date: October 2008
Publisher: Pocket Books
ISBN: 978-1847391933

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Laurel is a young woman who works at a homeless shelter in Vermont. She is still coping with the aftermath of a violent attack she experienced several years previously. She begins sorting through photographs taken by a homeless man, now deceased, and realizes that he grew up near her. Her interest becomes obsessive, and her curiosity and determination to find out more about the photographer is the catalyst for her to confront her past-especially as she is convinced that one of the photos is of herself, taken just moments before her attack…

Once again, Chris Bohjalian has struck gold. A very talented - and somewhat under-rated author -Bohjalian deserves to be read by a wider audience. His novels are far ranging, and win on every level. The characters are realistic and engaging, the dialogue, excellent, and whilst the plots tend to rely on somewhat bizarre events and/or coincidences, they never fall over into the realms of the absurd. We are consistently left thinking at the end of one of his novels, that could have happened. Moreover, I find myself longing to read the next : I'm a recent convert to this wonderful author but have every intention of reading all his work - numbering nine to date.

The Double Bind, incorporates many elements, all of which Bohjalian handles with a superb level of skill. The construction of the novel is also interesting. Interspersed throughout are some of photographs from the photographer's archive. We are also given tantalising glimpses at the beginning of several chapters into psychologists reports (about which I really should say no more!) A further, very effective device, is the continual references and interplay of characters from F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. All of these devices lend the novel a unique feel, and encourage us to realise that reality can be multi faceted, and that nothing may be quite as it appears.

The plot is certainly riveting - a lot of the action is centred around Laurel's struggle to discover more of the photographer, convinced that he is part of a local and wealthy family, who had abandoned him. Nonetheless Bohjalian is a master at building tension, and what could have become quite a tedious search, turns into a gripping series of events and confrontations. Perhaps my only, very slight, criticism, is that the author's style, as seen in his previous work, does flag up that there will be numerous twists in the plot - and for the reader to expect the unexpected. It's with more than little pride, that I can confess that I did indeed ,manage to work out how the novel would conclude! However, the journey to reach the conclusion was the page turner that I've come to expect from this wonderful author. But, the clues are there, if you know where and how to look...

The characters, both major and peripheral, are very well depicted indeed. Our sympathies rest not simply with Laurel, but with Bobby, the dead photographer - and to a lesser extent with his former family. After a while, Laurel's obsessions do become slightly trying for the reader (very possibly the author's intention), and our sympathies extend to her friends and flatmate, who have been doing their best to support her. The least appealing and least effective character was her boyfriend, who appeared quite bland and underdeveloped, despite his relatively important status in the novel.

Yet again, Bohjalian places a large importance on ethic and morals. This time he focuses on the plight of the homeless (beautifully played out against a background of the huge wealth personified by Bobby's possible family). He also deals, most effectively, and movingly with mental illness, in particular schizophrenia. These issues give a real depth of feeling and poignancy to the novel, and I suspect that the author has researched these areas very thoroughly.

Overall, it is a complex novel, but one which I would recommend without reservation. It's a moving account of vulnerability in society, the determination to see what the protagonist perceives as justice to be done, and a soaring testament to the indomitability of the human spirit. A wonderful, moving, intense and thought provoking book.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

For another thriller which looks at the plight of the homeless - this time in Sweden - we can recommend Missing by Karin Alvtegen.

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