All the stars
What does a star rating mean? Does it mean this is a work of greatness, that deserves to be read by every generation? That each word is empathetically chosen,* each sentence crafted, each paragraph placed with an eye to flow? That through metaphor, symbolism and theme it exposes the reader to some kind of truth? That it inspires a passionate response? That at this moment, I loved it? That it made me happy?
At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how many stars I give The Trespasser. It wrung me out like a three-day fight, playing me like an old lover, an old enemy, hinting in exactly the right ways, saying the right words, pausing at the best movement, to achieve their ends. I found myself reading every word, but forcing myself to occasionally pause, to ~breathe~ to consciously unclench the tense muscles in my neck and arms. I found myself becoming generally, non-specifically angry, just like Antionette striding through the squad room, defensive, irritable, ready to lash out at annoyances. Did I enjoy the experience? Not particularly. It was not pleasurable to be in such an angry person’s head. Was I able to break free? Not particularly. Common sense was able kick in, three hours into reading and only an hour or two to go before bed. I knew there was no way on earth I’d be able to sleep with rage like that simmering below the the surface.
Does evoking strong emotion make it a good book?
The second evening I read, I had more time, a little less anxiety; I knew I’d be finishing far before bed. And I might of peeked at the ending, because French is one of the authors I can’t quite trust; she plays by different authorial rules. I haven’t forgotten her first book, In the Woods.
Does unpredictability make it a good book?
I did notice–as I often do in a French book–that I stuttered on her mechanisms, the details of her plotting. I realized–even as I read it–that a particular device was used to allow the plot to go the direction it did. It felt a little obvious, maybe even a little cheap, but like the old, old lover/friend/enemy who knows where each button is and how to best employ it, it didn’t matter. I still finished the story exhausted, relieved, drained.
Does obvious make it a bad book? Less good? I can’t even think answer these questions of scale. What am I comparing it to? The greatest books that exist? French’s best work? That paint-by-numbers mystery I read last week and said I ‘liked’? The words ‘like,’ ‘love,’ seem ridiculously weak. Did it pull me out of the world, move me to black and blue, into a night-long, bleary-eyed wheel of emotion?
All the stars.
*You can assume all italicized words are said with emphasis, hand-waving drama and occasionally some irritable sarcasm. Sometimes the hand-waving may come close to the side of your head if you are especially obstinate.