Review: See What I Have Done – Sarah Schmidt (Released with Tinder Press – May 2017)

There are few literary texts that have left me looking over my shoulder and perhaps a little jumpy upon completion; scenes playing over in my mind, questioning a character’s thoughts and actions. Then along came Sarah Schmidt.

Her debut novel, See What I Have Done, explores the infamous Lizzie Borden story; a young woman tried and later cleared of the brutal axe murders of her father and stepmother. If the tale is perhaps unfamiliar, there’s little doubt the sinister rhyme associated with the killings will offer up some familiarity:

Lizzie Borden took an axe

And gave her mother forty whacks

When she saw what she had done

She gave her father forty one.

Schmidt’s fascination with the Borden murders was triggered by a chance find in a second-hand bookstore, which unintentionally led to a self-confessed: “Ten year creative obsession.” And what an obsession she’s created. From the get-go we are placed at the heart of this gloriously gruesome tale. Lizzie Borden requires little introduction. We, the reader, peer over her shoulders as she stares seemingly unfazed at her father’s broken body. It is clear from Schmidt’s brilliant turn-of-phrase, that Lizzie is not your average 31-year-old woman.

Each chapter brings with it a new perspective. Experiencing this heinous crime through different eyes, conjures up more ‘who actually dunnits?’ than I was expecting. Perhaps that’s just my interpretation (there’s no denying nearly all fingers point to Lizzie) but this case is still unsolved and Schmidt’s natural art for story telling, and superb characterisation, definitely left me questioning ‘who?’

The entire Borden family appear to live life in Fall River, under a thickening cloud of doom and self-destruction. Lizzie’s older sister, Emma, was inevitably going to get sucked into her sister’s turmoil – that was clear from the start – and I so wished her inner warrior would take flight. Emma is ever the protective older sister standing in Lizzie’s shadow – the perfect ‘fall of trust’ partner. Extended family didn’t fare much better. Uncle John: yuck. A dressed-up thug with a pen chant for all things vile. And a chance encounter with a young lad called Benjamin, gives him the perfect violent partner-in-crime. Benjamin, born into violence and brought up to behave as such, it’s inevitable his life’s journey was never going to be a positive one. But does Uncle John provide him with more or less than he bargained for? Another soul lost to the Borden name was Irish maid Bridget. How I longed for her to escape at nightmare at Fall River under the Borden name. We watch as life drains from her very being and I sincerely hope she managed, one day, to return to her loving home.

Schmidt has not only written an intriguing take on the Borden story, but has left a lasting impression that will impact on those who are familiar and unfamiliar with the story. A dazzling debut that should be read with the lights switched on. And preferably away from any possible sightings of pigeons and pears…you’ll see…

 

This copy of See What I Have Done was kindly provided for review purposes.  

Advertisements

Sophie Kinsella – My Not So Perfect Life

At the end of last year I deleted my Instagram account. It wasn’t something I used religiously; a couple of posts per week, mainly images from river walks, the occasional mani or magazine front cover. I wasn’t one for filters or tweaking light effects, but I was conscious that the images I posted (in the main) looked appealing. So why delete my account? In all honesty, I would sometimes find myself endlessly scrolling through ‘recommended images’ thinking to myself, do I really need to see another picture of a matcha latte (utterly revolting, in case you’re wondering)? Or someone’s latest ‘in action’ purchase from Sweaty Betty? The answer – no! Instagram added nothing to my life and it isn’t missed.

When I heard about Sophie Kineslla’s latest book, My Not So Perfect Life, it instantly spoke to me. Following new-to-London-life protagonist, Katie (aka Cath or Cat, depending on her perceived status in life and which one of her colleagues has a good-enough memory), the reader is instantly placed in a rather accurate London-life scenario – that of the infamous daily commute. No bells. No whistles. No filters. Katie originates from Somerset but has always had eyes for The Big Smoke. And now she’s arrived, those rose-tinted spectacles are turning a rather different colour. Working in branding for the most sought after name in the business, she finds herself not only struggling with the day-to-day hardships of city life, but the reality of where she sees herself and those around her.

On the surface, Katie’s peers and superiors are everything she wants to be. So, naturally, she emulates this through her online profile. Some clever photos here and there, a cultural knowledge to rival that of a Mastermind champion – all captioned with happy thoughts – and voila. Katie is hip, happening and where it’s at. But when life around her takes an unexpected downfall, Katie is forced to face reality. In doing so, she learns not only about herself, but also far more than she bargained for when it comes to her esteemed colleagues. What follows is a tantalising story full of revenge, a lot of mud, a rather irresistible meadow and some blue hair dye.

My Not So Perfect Life, makes you laugh-out-loud and is coupled with the perfect dose of romance. But it has its fair share of upset, embarrassment (own it!) and moments of total frustration. This is a must-read for anyone who is fed up with 21st century self-obsession, millenials who think the world owes them a favour and anyone who has it all (in theory and in practice). Kinsella creates a thoroughly believable story with characters that are so well-observed; we’ve all met, heard of and perhaps are the likes of De-meeee-ter (shuddering sympathy), Steve (hilariously huh?) and Flora (definitely a Kale fan).

But what I found most revealing about this book was my perception of the characters and how Kinsella cleverly creates them in a kind of metaphorical if-Instagram-were-real guise. And boy did my perception change by the end of the book. My Not So Perfect Life = a pretty perfect read.

screen-shot-2017-02-02-at-12-14-26

 

My copy of, My Not So Perfect Life, was provided for review purposes. Available 9 February 2017.