book review: the beloveds

The Beloveds by Maureen Lindley
Gallery Books, 336 pp.
Published April 3, 2018

DISCLAIMER: I received a free digital ARC of this book from Gallery Books via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

An exploration of domestic derangement, as sinister as Daphne Du Maurier’s classic Rebecca, that plumbs the depths of sibling rivalry with wit and menace.

Oh, to be a Beloved—one of those lucky people for whom nothing ever goes wrong. Everything falls into their laps without effort: happiness, beauty, good fortune, allure.

Betty Stash is not a Beloved—but her little sister, the delightful Gloria, is. She’s the one with the golden curls and sunny disposition and captivating smile, the one whose best friend used to be Betty’s, the one whose husband should have been Betty’s. And then, to everyone’s surprise, Gloria inherits the family manse—a vast, gorgeous pile of ancient stone, imposing timbers, and lush gardens—that was never meant to be hers.

Losing what Betty considers her rightful inheritance is the final indignity. As she single-mindedly pursues her plan to see the estate returned to her in all its glory, her determined and increasingly unhinged behavior—aided by poisonous mushrooms, talking walls, and a phantom dog—escalates to the point of no return. The Beloveds will have you wondering if there’s a length to which an envious sister won’t go.

Because I sometimes struggle with writing several paragraphs about a book I didn't enjoy, this will be a trial run for my new list-style reviews! Hopefully this makes it easier to pick out what worked for me as a reader, as well as what didn't, without piling on to a book that could just be your new favorite. The Beloveds does indeed call to mind Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca—and it makes me dread what a slog it would have been to read that story from Mrs. Danvers' perspective.

LIKED: The choice of an unreliable, sociopath for the first-person narrator.

Elizabeth is such a compelling narrator at the start! Lindley perfectly captures her narcissism, bitterness, and lack of a sympathetic instinct towards others. Small moments of hypocrisy keep the reader grounded, reminding you that this thought pattern is neither normal nor healthy. For instance, her fury over the penchant of her new neighbors listening to music paired with indignation that complain about her loud pacing in the middle of the night. In Betty's mind the two are totally unrelated: she's exercising her basic rights as a tenant, while they're behaving like inconsiderate savages. Rather frightening stuff.

DISLIKED: How that personality turned monotonous and dull in the novel's middle section.

The Beloveds' greatest strength sadly became its downfall about a third of the way through. Elizabeth's plotting, when divorced from any action, turns into a droning series of repeated complaints. When one scheme to reclaim Pipits—the family home—fails and another doesn't soon materialize, Elizabeth is revealed to the reader as a monotone, raving lunatic. I don't require that a main character be likable for me to read their story, but I do expect them to be consistently engaging throughout a book. For a significant chunk of The Beloveds' middle, Elizabeth commits the one cardinal sin: she bored me. While the ending somewhat made up for this faux pas, I still had to slog through over 150 pages to reach it.

LIKED: A colorful writing style which helped keep the story interesting.

Because The Beloveds employs the first person perspective, this goes hand-in-hand with Betty's initial success as a character. Lindley possesses a real talent for crafting sentences; even as she writes a vile character with vile thoughts, she draws out the moldering beauty that her main character sees in the family estate. Betty's perspective may wind up prohibitively dark for some readers, but it also has a deliciously Gothic twist that calls genre classics to mind.

DISLIKED: Using an egotistical first-person narrator left the supporting characters underdeveloped.

Elizabeth doesn't see her sister, brother-in-law, or husband as people. She sees them only as obstacles: to Pipits, to happiness, to solitude. With that attitude these and other supporting characters inevitably sink into the mere outlines of people; it may ring true for Elizabeth's mental state, but does nothing to abate the monotony of her jealous rants. By the final third of the book I was craving a new perspective, just to learn if Elizabeth was as clever and free of suspicion as she herself believed.

The Beloveds lives and dies by its narrator, Elizabeth. Because of her unstable and deranged mental state, I think this novel would have functioned better as a short story or novella. At over 300 pages in length, there simply isn't enough plot to sustain such a toxic state of mind. Lindley's writing does take up some of the slack, and I would consider picking up another of her books. Yet while Elizabeth's single-mindedness was no doubt meant to chill and disturb the reader, when it transforms into a battering ram of negativity without relief, you start craving an escape.


No comments:

Post a Comment