Note, the format of my Short and Sweet reviews differs in that they simply comprise the book blurb and a short response (hence, the short and sweet).
A story of secrets, lies and reinventing oneself, Luckiest Girl Alive is an intense and clever novel that, like quite a few lately, has been compared to Gone Girl. That frustrates me because while both stories focus on the masks people create to hide their past or true nature, this is not domestic noir and it’s not about a relationship gone bad. It’s about a young woman who has for years crafted a certain identity only to have cracks appear, as they inevitably do.
Here’s the blurb:
Ani FaNelli is the woman you love to hate. The woman who has it all. But behind the meticulously crafted façade lies the darkest and most violent of pasts . . .
When a documentary producer invites Ani to tell her side of the chilling and violent incident that took place when she was a teenager, she hopes it will be an opportunity to prove how far she’s come since then. She’ll even let the production company film her wedding to the wealthy Luke Harrison, the final step in her transformation.
But as the wedding and filming converge, Ani’s immaculate façade begins to crack, and she soon realises that there’s always a price to pay for perfection.
Luckiest Girl Alive is a clever character study of Ani FaNelli, a successful twenty-something woman living in New York. Shes’s not the most likable character – it’s not that protagonists have to be likable in order to enjoy a book, but when the narrator and main character are one and the same, it’s disconcerting to be in the head of someone who verges on vindictive and cruel at times. This is particularly the case in the early part of the book – and yet, her fiancee seems almost impressed: “You can be pretty vicious, you know?” he says, shaking his head after she tells a waitress she has spinach in her teeth as payback for sploshing wine. At another point she moves her pen ever-so-slowly towards her co-worker’s white jeans … but bear with her. Underneath the bitchy facade (which I’m not sure is always a facade) is an insecure, damaged, extremely body-image concerned (her weight and diet are common areas of worry for her) woman. Why? You’ll have to read it to find out.
The story uses random flashbacks and present-day narrative to build tension, mystery and a complicated but strangely compelling character … I wouldn’t like to meet her, but I wanted to know what happened to her and why she was so concerned with appearances and perfection. Where did this insecurity come from? Why was she such a bitch at times? (I have to say, I did struggle with the name TifAni – it rubbed me the wrong way.) There is some sensitive and disturbing subject matter in here that seems be treated in an offhand, emotionless manner, and will upset some readers, but I wonder if it was written that way to reflect the character’s wall-like defence mechanism which allows her to recount past horrors without emotion.
Here’s a snippet:
Sometimes I feel like a windup doll, like I have to reach behind and turn my golden key to produce a greeting, a laugh, whatever the socially acceptable reaction should be. I managed a tight farewell smile for Spencer. She wouldn’t mistake my name again, not once the documentary aired, not once the camera narrowed in on my aching, honest face, gently dissolving any last confusion about who I am and what I did. (p22)
Available from good bookstores (RRP $29.99). My copy was courtesy of Pan Macmillan Australia.