Top Tier (4 to 5 stars)

The Woman in the Library, by Sulari Gentill

4 stars
This book is set to be published on June 7th, 2022.

This book is somewhat hard to define, genre wise. The jacket label seems to define it clearly as a mystery (of the locked room variety, at first glance), but I would add meta fiction to the mix. Because it is a book about writing a book.

The problem here is the relation between inner and outer story, because it soon becomes clear that the murder which the book jacket advertises is part of the inner story. And that means I, as a reader, are immediately removed from the full immersion into that story. For all I knew, Leo – the guy writing letters – and Hannah, the author of the inner story, are “real” persons, while the protagonist of the inner story – which is herself a writer, too! – is just a fictional character, meaning the murder has no meaning.

I heard you like books, so I put a book into the book in the book you’re reading.

But as soon as I realized that the mystery is the inner story and that there’s a writer in that story, too – I started to dread some inception like loops. And it happens right away when the letter-writing Leo is also entered as a character into the inner story.

If the mystery of the inner story is to be the main ingredient for this novel, then the outer story is a massive way of breaking the fourth wall. Which does have it’s merits. It makes the whole story seem incredibly clever.

Sadly, that quickly turned out to be the problem. At times I had the feeling this novel was too clever for it’s own good, with some of the meta aspects feeling kind of forced unto the story (like the way the author seems to praise herself). And then there comes the second loop, this time in reverse. You’ll realize it when it happens.

Until that second loop happens – around halfway into the book – the outer commentary surrounding the inner story adds nothing to the main story, at least not for me. It’s ruining the pace and distracts me from the real plot. Or at least that’s what it seemed like until the twist, when it proved to be laying the ground for something different.

I can’t tell you details – no spoilers here – but in a certain sense, the outer story becomes the center point. Which means you’ll have to sort through the inner story to find out what’s going on. While this is a clever turn of events, it suddenly makes the task of reading the inner story a little tedious, like a kind of chore that needs to be done before you can enjoy your entertainment.

Luckily enough, the inner story quickly gains in pace at this point, and you start thinking about the inner mystery’s twists.

In the end, I’m having some mixed feelings about this tale. There are some things that were kind of rubbing me the wrong way – killing my immersion into the inner story, stuff like that – but still, I like its cleverness, how the two story lines interweave, the twists that are flawlessly constructed. It will twist your brain! So I’ll rate it 4 out of 5 stars.

Disclaimer: I’ve received a free Advanced Reader’s Copy and am leaving this review voluntarily.

By Stefan

father of two, not enough time to read everything I want to read

2 replies on “The Woman in the Library, by Sulari Gentill”

Exactly. The main part is the story the fictional author Hannah writes, but every chapter of that story ends with a letter from Leo to Hannah telling her what he thinks of the chapter, making suggestions, stuff like that.

Only there’s also something sinister going on behind the curtains, hinted at in those letters. Hannah herself never speaks (outside the chapter she writes), we only see the correspondence she receives. Mostly from Leo, but not exclusively.

Liked by 1 person

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