For some people the worst thing you can say about a film, a book or any other piece of creative work is that it is predictable. And in many ways I agree – why give an hour (or two, or fifteen) to an album, movie or novel which doesn’t add anything to the sum total of my experience? But….Sometimes I know how a plotline is going to end (honestly, I can read the mind of the Eastenders scriptwriting team) but still have enough invested in the characters to want to know how they will react to it. In fact we can all sometimes surprise ourselves with how we react to an event we’d known was coming for years – the wedding we’d dreamed of and planned for months, or maybe the eventual death of someone who’d been ill for decades: we can still feel the emotional impact of the shock even when it isn’t exactly a surprise. So, does this always matter when reading a novel (remembering that there are, apparently, only seven plots – or three if you ask Rosencrantz and Guildenstern)?
In The Breakdown, B A Paris’ second novel, Cass decides to ignore her husband’s advice and drive home along a lonely, woodland road. She sees a car broken down, in appalling weather conditions, and stops to see if the female driver needs help. When they don’t react to her stopping she drives on but is shocked to discover, the next day, that not only did she know the driver but that she had been found dead in her car. She feels she can’t share the guilt she feels with her husband – he’ll be angry that she drove along such a dangerous road – but worse than the guilt is the feeling that she is losing her mind. Her mother died after suffering from early onset Alzheimer’s – is Cass starting to show signs of the same awful fate?
There is plenty of threat and fear for Cass – at first that she will become ill and a burden on her husband but later she is plagued by silent phone calls and feels physically threatened. She feels isolated, her husband blames call-centres and she never told him about her Mum’s illness because he might not want a woman with such potentially bad genes, and even her best friend isn’t there for her. As a reader you can see nothing more positive than heavy-duty meds in her future but, gradually, she starts to realise that all the things happening to her just don’t make sense. When she finally takes back control of her life she brings the story to a pretty satisfying conclusion.
My problems with this book are that a) I worked out who Cass’s main tormenters were fairly early on and b) Cass was a bit of a doormat. Which isn’t fair on her – she had been a carer for her mother for a long time and had watched her deteriorate. They had, apparently, had money problems (happily resolved after her mother’s death) and Cass had needed to quit her job to care for her mum full-time. All these things could have affected Cass’s sense of self-worth and that is how she is written – maybe my real issue is that, when she starts to assert herself in the last part of the story, I’m not clear what changes to give her this new burst of confidence. Maybe anger when she realises how she has been betrayed? I did still enjoy the book – the plot was quite convoluted and twisty so I was interested to see how it would unravel. In the end Cass explained it all in the monologue form of that bit at the end of a detective tv show where all the suspects are gathered in one room and the killer is revealed. And, to be fair, I’m a sucker for that kind of thing…