Anything described as a “literary page turner” usually makes me want to heave. For some reason, I don’t normally associate the two as being bedfellows, you know? So I approached this with caution, since the story sounded fascinating but there was the possibility of it being total overwritten garbage, much like that utter load of shite, The Night Guest.
There is a lot of story going on and at the centre of all the multiple plot strands is Poplar Farm. It’s been in Louise’s family for generations, but it’s now been parcelled up and sold off. Paul Krovik bought a huge chunk of it, with the aim of building 200 houses on it and making his fortune. With only 20 complete, he goes bankrupt. The Noailles family (Julia, Nathaniel and their 7 year old son Copley) move into the finished show home, which would have been Paul’s home. The book jumps between their stories. Louise’s is told in the first person and sometimes it veers ever so close to fluffy overwritten garbage, but Flanery reins it in just in time.
The intersecting arcs of the Kroviks and the Noailles are by far the most gripping and totally earn this novel its “page turner” status. See, without wishing to get too spoiler-y, Krovik has been driven mad by the collapse of his dream. His wife has left him, taking his family away from him. With all contact severed and no money to live on, Paul hides out on Poplar Farm, in the hidden underground passages that allow him access to Julia and Nathaniel’s house. Nobody knows he is there. Copley sees him, but nobody believes him. The epic sense of dread Flanery creates in these sections of the novel is just incredible. Properly unpleasant and unsettling, it’s both impossible to put down (ha!) and difficult to read at the same time. Especially the sections detailing Copley’s days at school. Here, it tips over into being just upsetting. Anyone who ever had a shit day at school will be right there with him.
With all this dread and all these crazy people (Nathaniel isn’t the sanest of the bunch either, it turns out), there is quite obviously Something Unpleasant heading our way. And when it arrives, you’ll want to un-see it all, un-read the words. It’s horrible and heartbreaking, grim and sad. But anything less and you’d feel cheated. Essentially, I loved this book and while it’s not perfect, it can really truly be called both literary and a page turner. Top stuff.