"If I've learned one thing today, it's that teenage girls make Moriarty look like a babe in the woods."
At the beginning of this week I walked out of work at the end of the day with a group of colleagues and bundled into the nearest pub for our inaugural book club meeting. Out of three options we had settled on The Secret Place by Tana French as our first book, which turned out to be the perfect pick for getting people talking. Although opinions were divided we mostly really enjoyed this novel and it certainly stuck in our minds.
Have some thoughts in bullet points:
- There was a general consensus that this book was unnecessarily long. One person argued that the detail added intensity to the crucible-like setting, but in general we all thought it could benefit from being 100 or so pages shorter.
- We all felt frustrated by the characters individually and as a group. This wasn't because of how they're written, quite the opposite as we actually recognised parts of ourselves as teens and others we knew within them. Rather we wanted to know more about why they did certain things and occasionally slap them, as you do with fictional characters.
- The choice of murderer was felt to be a bit cliche (I personally felt she was the perfect person and I had no clue until it happened) - although only one person guessed the twist early on.
- The dialogue (particularly in the interviews between the detectives and the students), style, and dual narration were very well received. I liked how we started at the beginning and the middle simultaneously and met at the end.
- The 'magical' subplot was lacklustre and pointless. Although one or two of us laughed that we too had messed around with ouija boards and the like whilst at school, in this context it felt too disjointed and the suggestion that the girls had special powers seemed obscure. One member argued that it demonstrates the power of their pact and the bond between them, but agreed that the whole plot line was a touch messy and not followed through to the end.
- It was agreed that having more from the perspective of the boys school would add an interesting dimension to the novel.
- I asked whether the novel would still be as powerful if the boarding school setting was taken away. All agreed that the boarding school setting is too important for that. I loved this setting and felt it was perfect for ramping up the tension.
- All in all we loved the story, but the execution was a bit off.
- Less than half of the group would give French a second chance, but those that would were excited by the prospect.
This novel very much split the group. Although we all enjoyed and even loved elements of the novel, it was generally disappointing and we expected so much more. Personally I'm not sure whether I will pick up another of French's novels - we shall see.
In three words: frustrating, complex, deceptive
Have you read The Secret Place? Should I give Tana French another chance?