What’s it all about?:
A modest house in upstate New York. One in the morning. Three people—a couple and their child—hurry out the door, but it’s too late for them. As the virtuosic and terrifying opening scene of Broken River unfolds, a spectral presence seems to be watching with cold and mysterious interest. Soon the house lies abandoned, and years later a new family moves in.
Karl, Eleanor, and their daughter, Irina, arrive from New York City in the wake of Karl’s infidelity to start anew. Karl tries to stabilize his flailing art career. Eleanor, a successful commercial novelist, eagerly pivots in a new creative direction. Meanwhile, twelve-year-old Irina becomes obsessed with the brutal murders that occurred in the house years earlier. And, secretly, so does her mother. As the ensemble cast grows to include Louis, a hapless salesman in a carpet warehouse who is haunted by his past, and Sam, a young woman newly reunited with her jailbird brother, the seemingly unrelated crime that opened the story becomes ominously relevant.
Hovering over all this activity looms a gradually awakening narrative consciousness that watches these characters lie to themselves and each other, unleashing forces that none of them could have anticipated and that put them in mortal danger. Broken River is a cinematic, darkly comic, and sui generis psychological thriller that could only have been written by J. Robert Lennon.
What did I think?:
I have to admit, I’ve never heard of Broken River or the author, J. Robert Lennon before so I was delighted when it was the first book from my Daunt Books Annual Subscription that my lovely boyfriend gifted me for Christmas last year. I have made it my mission to read and review each book I receive as part of my Bookish Goals/Resolutions which I posted about in January. I’m always slightly concerned about a book subscription as I have a LOT of unread books on my shelves and I always worry that a book is going to be picked for me that I already own. Well, not only did I not already own Broken River but as I mentioned, I hadn’t even picked up on it being published so I was very excited to check out what it was all about.
It’s clearly a crying shame that I didn’t know about this book as it is a wonderful novel that is written in quite a literary style (i.e. gorgeous!) but has that edge of thriller that keeps you gripped, turning the pages quicker than you might do a “normal” literary novel. In fact, when I first started reading it, I was pretty determined that it was going to be a five star read for me. Unfortunately, I had a minor issue that stopped me from giving it the big five but I still insist that this is a fantastic book that needs to be read by more people.
Broken River is initially the story of a family – Mum, Dad and a young daughter who get into a horrific situation where the parents are killed, inches away from their surviving daughter. The perps responsible for the brutal murders are never found and brought to justice. After the daughter is taken into care, the house becomes abandoned, gathering dust, rodents and other house guests, including your typical teenagers who use it as “party central” and the homeless and drug addicts where it becomes a convenient place to sleep/get high.
This is until a new family moves into the house: Karl, Eleanor and teenage daughter Irina, all of whom have their own issues and deep, dark secrets. As we follow their story, we also learn how they all deceive each other, for one reason or another and witness the struggles of their relationships, particularly when an obsession develops with the murky history of the family that came before them and Irina’s insistence that she has found the previous daughter who saw her parents being murdered in such a terrible way. Of course, this news doesn’t stay quiet for long and the family find themselves embroiled in a now very deadly situation when some people think the secrets and crimes of the past should remain buried.
There’s so many things to love about this book, particularly the writing style and most definitely, the variety of intriguing characters that the author develops beautifully. They’re all flawed in some way, particularly the villains of the piece (of course!) and especially the father, Karl whose little ways and the mistakes he makes, potentially hurting his family forever, really got under my skin and made me cross but I literally loved to hate him. Yes I might have made a little huff of anger at him during several parts of the narrative but who hasn’t groaned at a nasty character that you can’t stand in a novel? For me, that just means that J. Robert Lennon has done his job properly and written people that I can either really connect with i.e. Eleanor, Irina or others that I just want to throw in a river.
Additionally, I thought it was fantastic that he gives some of his more villainous characters quite a human edge and you can really see their regrets about what they might have done in their past and the sticky situation that they feel they can’t run away from in the present time. Personally, there were only a tiny, minuscule part of this novel that I didn’t quite connect with and stopped me from giving it five stars. There were a few chapters interspersed between the main narrative from the point of view of The Observer. He/she watches certain events as if he is with the character at the time and gives a whole new perspective of their actions. Now I really enjoyed this at the beginning and thought it was quite frankly, a genius move by the author. However, the chapters nearer the end starting getting a bit too philosophical for my liking and sadly, it didn’t evoke the same emotions in me as it did at the beginning. Apart from this, I would urge anyone with an interest in literary fiction and crime to try this book, it might just surprise you. It definitely surprised me.
Would I recommend it?:
But of course!
Star rating (out of 5):