About once a year, a book comes round that becomes a huge bestseller largely on word of mouth recommendations – like Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl or Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train. I don’t tend to enjoy these books – Gone Girl was deeply unsatisfying with its collection of unpleasant characters, the most unpleasant of whom comes out on top, and The Girl on the Train was just dull.
I was hoping The Couple Next Door might buck that particular trend but I was to be sadly disappointed. The plot seemed promising enough – having been let down by their babysitter, Anne and Marco go to dinner with their next-door neighbours leaving baby Cora alone in the house. Lest you think they are totally neglectful parents, they do take the baby monitor with them and go back to check on her every half hour. It’s probably obvious that I’m not a parent when I say that this does not seem entirely unreasonable – okay the house could catch fire but it’s not very likely and any other problem would be identifiable from the baby monitor. And while I don’t think it’s an unreasonable solution to the problem I find it hard to believe that a new mother would be emotionally capable of leaving her baby alone like that – I don’t have children, that doesn’t make me an inhuman monster.
Anyway, to get back to the plot, when Anne and Marco get home they find Cora has been kidnapped and there then follows the interminably slow tale of the police investigation into her disappearance. This is all told by an omniscient narrator so the reader is party to practically everything any character thinks, says or does. I assume this is intended to generate tension as we know things the other characters don’t but it actually has the reverse effect, slowing things down and rendering large chunks of the plot irrelevant.
Yet again we have a book in which it’s hard to like any of the characters – I can summon up a small bit of sympathy for Anne and I suppose Cora would be likeable if her parents cared enough about her to convey any hint of her personality, but everyone else is just vile. I don’t understand why it is that writers of thrillers, in particular, fail to recognise that readers need someone they can root for. It’s much easier to appreciate a book if you can identify with a character and that’s just not going to happen if they’re all horrible. Unless the reader’s a sociopath. Maybe this books aimed at sociopaths.
Without wanting to give too much away, I can say that after many (too many) trials and tribulations Anne and Marco appear to be in with a chance of rebuilding their lives. Only the author just won’t let them go, ending with the most ridiculously melodramatic twist it has ever been my misfortune to read.
I gave this book away. Quickly.