new novel has a body, a murder and more
The woman in the library
Ultimo press, $32.99
There is a discussion familiar to crime novel writers in The woman in the library. Australian recipient of the prestigious (fictional) Sinclair Scholarship, Winifred (“people call me Freddie”) Kincaid admits she’s a “trouser”. In other words, an author who flies “by the seat of his pants” when it comes to crafting an intriguing plot.
In fact, Freddie sees herself as more of a bus driver when it comes to plotting: “There’s a kind of route, but who goes up and down is determined by the balance between habit, timing and chance”. The handsome man to whom she explains her approach is also a writer, but a meticulous planner who has devised an intricate flowchart with radiating themes and subplots: “it’s like a spider’s web woven to catch a story” , Freddie mused appreciatively.
Whatever Sulari Gentill herself, plotter or trouser, The woman in the library is both a captivating narrative journey and an intricate web that captures the heart as much as the head. This is a book about writing fiction that plays with the form of the classic detective novel while involving a love story, a serial killer, and a nod to that 18th century favorite, the epistolary novel.
It begins with an email from Leo (a budding American author) to Hannah (a best-selling Australian writer) describing how he spent the day being distracted by the beautiful ceiling in the Boston Public Library’s Reading Room. . In the first chapter, we meet Hannah’s character, Freddie, sitting in that same bookcase, admiring the ceiling while quietly observing the people seated around her. They include the Handsome Man, Freud Girl, and Heroic Chin, all of which will eventually be given names.
Freddie’s staring at the ceiling is interrupted by a terrifying, “irregular” scream that initiates a conversation between the four that will develop into an alliance as a body is discovered and everyone becomes a suspect. And so the novel within the novel begins to unfold, much to the delight of fan Leo, who acknowledges his own contribution to Hannah’s Library storyline.
Leo is eager to help, offering critiques and advice on American culture and idioms. “Americans don’t use the term ‘sweater’…you might want to change that reference to sweater or pullover,” he wrote. He’s also happy to suggest which Boston neighborhood Freddie might live in, the best bus route to get from A to B, while noting the progress of his own doomed manuscript: “Your One undeterred,” he concludes.
It’s about setting up a layer cake of a plot that provides Gentill with countless opportunities to comment on the cultural differences between Australia and the United States. “Christmas in Australia is sometimes an exercise in irony,” says Freddie as bushfires rage at home. She is also intrigued by the way Americans smile while talking. Australians, she told herself, only smile when they lie.