it’s so rare that i review a book that is actually out, what with all my netgalleying and ARC-hoarding. but this one has been out for ages and i am only just now getting around to the ARC i hoarded last year. but this means i can say to you – go and get this now!! you don’t have to wait 4 months for me to float my review and remind you that you wanted to read it.
because i loved it, and i feel like it has been so long since i truly loved a book that i want to crow and dance and maybe… do a cartwheel.
this book is inspired by the amanda knox case. and if that is a case you paid attention to, maybe this book won’t be for you what it was for me. i only glanced at headlines as they shouted in my face, so all i know is that she may or may not have killed her roommate when she was studying abroad in italy. period.
this book is about a 21-year-old girl named lily who goes to buenos aires for a semester abroad, and becomes the prime suspect when her roommate katy is brutally murdered in the room they shared. the story shifts between the perspectives of lily, her father, the prosecutor convinced of her guilt, and lily’s boyfriend sebastien lecompte, both before and after the murder. it is an exquisite puzzle of fact and speculation, misunderstandings and lies, posturing and psychological manipulation, artifice and reality, and i was completely riveted throughout.
the best thing about this book is lily. good lord, what a wonderfully-written and insufferable character. lily is that kind of super-confident and careless entitled american girl – smart enough to bluster her way through pseudo-intellectual discussions and debates, but also so self-involved as to be horribly naive about how she is perceived and how her actions affect other people. she goes through life patting herself on the back for being progressive and tolerant in her beliefs, in love with the world and completely unaware of when she is being off-putting or offensive. she has that college-student mentality that is figuring it all out. not just for herself, but for everybody else. she is discovering things that no one has ever before discovered, and her thoughts are wildly original and she scoffs at the pedestrian and the banal, young enough to not know that this attitude is, itself, banal. it is perfect in all of those uncomfortably familiar details. and her father’s embarrassed/indulgent assessment of her is also staggeringly perfect. all the minor details in this – all the quiet moments of contemplation and “what did we do wrong??” as insalubrious aspects of her character come out in the media coverage and the character assassination begins. the words and actions of a selfish girl, generally innocuous under ordinary circumstances, look much more incriminating after a crime.
she really has handled lily very well. although we see how wounded she feels when she is misunderstood, how she is well-intentioned but clumsy, how her actions are frequently attempts to be unobtrusive, she comes across to others as indifferent, irreverent, selfish. she protects herself with the armor of studied insouciance, and she really feels like she is being some kind of social revolutionary with her laissez-faire attitude and the excitement of her shiny new independence and her appreciation of the grotesque.
but all of this causes problems for her. her arrogance about her facility with the language leads her to confidently submit to an interrogation in spanish, and once she is detained, she is so stunned that the world is not treating her with the same indulgent acceptance to which she has become accustomed, she just shuts down and submits.
and sebastien. ugh. what a sympathetic but maddening character. a bazillionaire orphan living next door to the girls in a huge crumbling house filled with sheet-covered furniture, hiding hurt behind persona, behind exhausting irony, behind lies and what he sees as a kind of elitist charm. not as smart as he thinks he is, but he manages to land lily, even though she sees right through him.
and her father. almost every observation he makes about lily is heartbreaking and real and made me want to call my dad and apologize for how insufferable i must have been during my teenage/early twenties-years.
as the story goes on and you begin to see the cracks on both sides, you will come to your own conclusions. like any situation in which you were not yourself present, you’re never going to know what really happened, even when you are being led by a novelist of such powerful gifts. unreliable narrators, self-preservation, misunderstandings – everything adds up to a giant question mark. but it’s a wonderful journey to that question mark, and although there are so many amazing passages in here that clawed at my heart, i will leave those for you to discover.
again, i just have the boring gray arc, but i am so in love with that cover, it’s not even funny. i am going to have to buy a “real” copy of it and soon.