14 August 2023

Review: The Woman in the Library by Sulari Gentill

The Woman in the Library by Sulari Gentill book cover

The Woman in the Library by Sulari Gentill has many layers, some of which I'm still untangling while trying to write this review. This mystery novel contains a book within a book and so many layers I had trouble counting them.

Hannah is writing a novel. In it, her protagonist Freddie is sitting in the Reading Room of the Boston Public Library trying to write a novel when The Woman in the Library by Sulari Gentill opens. Freddie decides to take inspiration from the people seated around her, and when a woman screams, and is later found dead, the strangeness of the situation brings about the meeting of Winifred Kincaid (Hannah's protagonist Freddie) with Cain McLeod, Marigold Anastas and Whit Metters. Bonded by trauma these four characters become fast friends, although one of them is a killer and we don't know who.

The character of Freddie is written in the first person, so my first mistake (I think) was assuming Hannah heard the scream, met the others at the library, and decided to write a novel inspired by these new friends. I later realised this all must be happening in Hannah's Freddie's manuscript, as Hannah is living in Australia, not in Boston.

Chapters from Hannah's book feature alongside letters from a correspondent called Leo although we never see her replies. Based in the USA, Leo is a beta reader providing feedback on each of the chapters and it starts to get complicated when Hannah writes him into the book as a friend to Freddie.

Australian author Sulari Gentill has convincingly set her tale in Boston and I loved Leo's comments and advice regarding the differences between Australian and US readers and the terms they know and recognise. It was amusingly meta!

The Woman in the Library contains clever literary mechanisms that seemingly moved up, down and behind me and I got a sore neck trying to keep track of everything. Reading this stand alone was a little like watching Inception and I'll admit being confused by the two Leo characters. The ending wasn't clear cut for me and I'm not quite sure if it was one last little twist or an exclamation point on the plot.

To unearth the gems in this deeply layered mystery I needed to concentrate harder, so perhaps this was a case of the wrong time for me and this book. Don't be fooled by its brevity as I was, The Woman in the Library by Sulari Gentill definitely packs a punch.

For more from this author, check out my review of Chasing Odysseus by S.D. Gentill.

My Rating:

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