End­less plot twists ... and a shock at the end

The Herald on Sunday - Sunday Herald Life - - Books - by Gemma McLaughlin

All These Beau­ti­ful Strangers El­iz­a­beth Kle­hfoth, Pen­guin Books While search­ing for this week’s book re­view I was struck by the stun­ningly beau­ti­ful and mys­te­ri­ous front cover of All These Beau­ti­ful Strangers and the unique white let­ter­ing on the tips of the pages spell­ing out “I know”. Despite the com­mon phrase “Never judge a book by its cover” I am al­ways im­pressed by a beau­ti­ful or in­trigu­ing book de­sign and this was no dif­fer­ent.

The story fol­lows a young, board­ing-school ed­u­cated girl called Char­lie Cal­loway, who has an in­cred­i­bly wealthy fam­ily and an in­ter­est­ing edge to her char­ac­ter. In the first few chap­ters we learn about past sum­mers at the fam­ily’s lake­side home.

Two seem­ingly un­re­lated mys­ter­ies curl around each other through­out the story. The first is that of her mother’s dis­ap­pear­ance from their lake house when she was a child; the other con­cerns the ex­clu­sive se­cret so­ci­ety in Char­lie’s board­ing school, The As. The main fo­cus at first is on Char­lie re­ceiv­ing an in­vi­ta­tion to join the As and the process of her ini­ti­a­tion but as we go on we find some­thing much darker lurk­ing un­der the sur­face of The As and of her fam­ily.

We be­gin to learn just why Char­lie’s char­ac­ter seems so con­trolled: it is rooted in con­fus­ing emo­tions from the trau­mas of her child­hood and the most prom­i­nent emo­tion in her mother’s dis­ap­pear­ance is anger. We learn that she an­gry not only at her mother, but also at her un­cle Hank, for not just his be­trayal of the Cal­loway name when he talked to reporters but also be­cause he knows that there is some­thing more at hand than her mother leav­ing them. Af­ter hear­ing about this anger it is fas­ci­nat­ing that we also hear from the per­spec­tive of Grace Cal­loway, Char­lie’s Mother, in the year of her dis­ap­pear­ance, as the plot swaps be­tween 2007 and 2017, mak­ing us ques­tion every­thing we know about this book. Hear­ing from two per­spec­tives run­ning in two dif­fer­ent time­lines was the most in­tel­li­gent as­pect of the story.

On fin­ish­ing the novel I was not only shocked, as I al­ways am at the end of a well writ­ten book, but also de­lighted at the sheer ge­nius of the writ­ing tech­niques used to am­plify the mys­tery of the plot.

I have al­ways loved a story filled with mys­tery and end­less plot twists and I have fi­nally found a fresh new novel with all that and more. I urge any­one look­ing for a dark, re­lat­able new story to sink their teeth into to pick up this book and take the time to en­joy it.

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