It’s very very clever. And… as I said on Twitter when I was part-way through, it’s also a huge mindf*ck.
What if you wrote of someone writing of you? In the end, which of you would be real?
After She Wrote Him
by Sulari Gentill
Published by Poisoned Pen Press
Genres: Crime Fiction, General Fiction
A successful writer, Madeleine, creates a character, Edward, and begins to imagine his life. He, too, is an author. Edward is in love with a woman, Willow, who's married to a man Edward loathes, and who loathes him, but he and Willow stay close friends. She's an artist. As Madeleine develops the plot, Edward attends a gallery show where a scummy critic is flung down a flight of fire stairs...murdered.
Madeleine, still stressed from her miscarriages and grieving her inability to have a child, grows more and more enamored of Edward, spending more and more time with him and the progress of the investigation and less with her physician husband, Hugh, who in turn may be developing secrets of his own.
As Madeline engages more with Edward, he begins to engage back. A crisis comes when Madeleine chooses the killer in Edward's story and Hugh begins to question her immersion in her novel.
So, if you read the blurb you assume you’re going into this reading about an author Madeleine, writing about another author, Edward. Things quickly change however… because Edward is (in fact) writing about a crime writer Madeleine; so though it sounds as if it will be a simple case of an author becoming too attached to her lead character, it’s much more than that.
If you’re ridiculously logic-loving like moi you will spend far more time than you should analysing the phrasing and characters to try to get it clear in your mind: who exactly is the writer; and who is the character. Of course it’s one thing to try to analyse which writer (because both Edward and Madeleine’s books are about writers – about each other in fact) is writing the narrative unfolding before us. But then you add in the fact that one of them might be writing about a character who IS in fact writing about their author…. well then… *head explodes*
And then of course it’s all fiction because we know this is written by Gentill… author of the popular Rowland Sinclair mystery series (which I’ve bizarrely not read. Bizarre as I read so much crime fiction).
Gentill does an excellent job of creating our two leads, who are both very real and likeable. And I love the way Edward, for example, describes how he introduces characters’ names into his book (and Madeleine’s world) – using the names of people he knows. So, the same character pops up in both ‘books’. Which is only the start of Gentill’s clever plot-traversing prose.
Shivering, Madeleine rubbed her arms as Edward placed his jacket over Willow’s shoulders….
Gentill also creates a world around them in which their respective loved one (Madeleine’s husband and Edward’s married BFF Willow) seem to be acting strangely. Deceptively almost. It means both Madeleine and Edward are forced to ponder if they’re being duped by them or becoming paranoid. The latter of course is exacerbated by concerns of others about their attachment to each other in their fictional worlds.
There’s so much depth here. There’s the obvious – as explained by Edward:
It’s an exploration of an author’s relationship with her protagonist, an examination of the tenuous line between belief and reality, imagination and self, and what happens when that line is crossed.
He was fascinated by the notion of a story truly told by both the writer and the protagonist. Perhaps this was the partnership that all writers sought, that he had never before completely achieved.
And of course that fine line between imagination and delusion isn’t limited to authors and their characters.
Because she’s writing about authors Gentill also touches on the genre-fiction (crime fiction here) vs literary fiction ‘debate’. She’ll never be considered a literary author, Madeline advises, as they’re all stick-thin…
you must look as though you’ve been so consumed by your art that you’ve forgotten to eat for at least a few weeks, that you (have) been started into clarity.
The control freak in me was probably a little let down at the end – in both stories. There’s closure, but there isn’t, if that makes sense.
Ultimately though it didn’t matter as this is a really thought-provoking book by Gentill. And timely as I just read an interview with Val McDermid about talking to her characters and attempted to watch The Silence of the Marsh on Netflix. (I loved the idea but really couldn’t get into it!).
After She Wrote Him by Sulari Gentill has been published by Poisoned Pen Press and now available.
I received an electronic copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.
** I read this via Kindle app so haven’t been able to include page numbers in my quotes.