Thursday, July 14, 2016

The Trap

By Melanie Raabe

Translated by Imogen Taylor
Grand Central     2015
329 pages     Thriller

It is a family gathering at the beach with two preschool grandchildren. The water continues to beckon, the children are running around, and Grandma is trying to read. I began a spiritual book about the Buddhist way to financial freedom—too dense; then tried The Nordic Theory of Everything—great book but couldn’t concentrate in the sun and the wind; so I moved on to The Trap. BINGO! I sat on the porch all day, and just before bedtime, I closed the book. Totally engrossed!

The tagline of The Trap is “I know who killed my sister. I wrote this book for him.” Linda Conrads (the pen name for Linda Michaelis) is a famous German author of literary fiction. Unfortunately, her sister Anna was murdered twelve years ago, and Linda, in her grief, becomes housebound and a recluse. She only sees her gardener, her assistant, and her publisher. She is totally isolated by her phobias, her choices, and her writing. There are no author readings and no interviews. She is a mystery in Germany. (This, by the way, is too much of an allusion to Elena Ferrante, the mysterious Italian author.) Then one night, while watching television, she sees a news reporter who looks like her fleeting memory of the man that she saw leaving the scene of her sister’s murder. She is sure that this is the same man, and the news reporter is her sister’s murderer.

The story is told in the first person by Linda, who proves to be a totally unreliable narrator. Interspersed throughout Linda’s narration are selected chapters from the thriller she is writing to expose the murderer. The plot builds as the book is written and Linda builds her case against the murderer. A couple of times I found myself gasping as danger lurked for Linda; the scariest moment was when the news reporter/murder suspect comes to her house to conduct the first interview Linda has given in years.

The concept of The Trap is original, but the concept is frankly more thrilling than its execution. I am a little tired of the unreliable narrator concept, ala Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train. Perhaps this plot device has run its course, particularly with me. I do think that Gone Girl is the most intricately woven of the three, although I imagine that The Girl on the Train and The Trap will probably also make good movies. I agreed with the review by the Reaction to Reading blogger who says, “I’m not the world’s biggest fan of the unreliable narrator device but I can be swept along by it in the right circumstances. Sadly, I think it’s particularly poorly executed here as Linda’s unreliability is all too obvious and I never felt at all invested in whether or not she was actually telling the truth.”

I was intrigued with the idea of the protagonist as a recluse. It is totally understandable that someone would become unstable after seeing her sister murdered, but as Linda muses, “Eleven years is a long time. When I wake up at night and stare at my bedroom ceiling, I sometimes wonder whether I’ve dreamt the world out there. Maybe this world isn’t really my world; maybe it’s the only one there is.” If Linda hadn’t seen the murderer on television, how long would this self-imposed exile have lasted? How crazy would she have gotten? How many more stories could have come from her imagination without any interaction with the outside world?  

The Trap was a great sun and sand diversion, but it is not literature. Like many mystery novels that are just too “pat” in their construction, I found the characters a little boring and the plot a little too “constructed” to be even slightly believable. As a beach read, however, it was delightful. 

An interview with Melanie Raabe. 

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