Written by Louise Phillips — Perhaps I’m just lucky, but it’s rare that I find a book that I can’t get into. So I was perplexed when I was halfway through The Doll’s House and still struggling to connect with it. Something else I rarely do is read my previous reviews of an author before starting a new book – and so it is only now that I’ve gone onto the CFL site, and discovered I had the same problem with Phillips’ debut novel, Red Ribbons. It looks like it’s time for me to analyse why I’m not ‘getting’ her work.
Don’t get me wrong, this author is a dab hand at creating great characters and can conjure up a sense of place in a few deftly drawn sentences. What I disliked was the way the story jumped from place to place and character to character like a grasshopper on speed, in ‘chapters’ which were often no more than two pages long. I’d just be getting interested in one angle to the story when it was swapped for another, seemingly unrelated, thread. It meant that I’d put the book down and go off to do something else, only to return and have to skim back a few pages to work out where I was. I’ll admit there were times when I was tempted to give up altogether.
The Doll’s House sees the return of criminal psychologist Dr Kate Pearson and Detective Inspector O’Connor (like Morse, we don’t find out his first name). Both Kate and the cop are struggling with personal problems, which must be pushed aside when a middle-aged man with multiple stab wounds is found drowned in the Grand Canal in the heart of Dublin city. The victim is a well known TV personality – and his body has been dumped in a very public place. The pair are still struggling with the whys and wherefores of the first murder when a second man is found floating in a nearby stretch of the same canal. He is a vagrant, and died before being put into the water. Could the pair be linked?
The reader follows the unfolding drama through the eyes of Kate, Clodagh McKay and the shadowy figure of the murderer himself. Clodagh is the mother of a tearaway teenage daughter. She is trapped in a rapidly disintegrating marriage and is a recovering alcoholic. She had also recently lost her mother and is trying to come to terms with her death. Clodagh has only fragmented memories of her childhood and turns to a hypnotist in the hope that regression will help to fill in the gaps, and this is a decision which she could live to regret. The hypnotism/regression angle is well researched and original and somewhat redeems this book for me. The themes of memory recur throughout and offer some thought-provoking insights into the human mind and its workings.
Clodagh’s story is the most interesting aspect of the book, and it is her doll’s house which inspires its title. We readers feel a little like Clodagh too; we’re on the outside, looking through small windows to see the bigger picture as the author reveals it to us. If you like to see things from myriad angles then The Doll’s House will appeal, but all the chopping and changing, and short chapters, do disrupt the enjoyment.
CFL Rating: 3 Stars