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Ultraviolet Hardcover – September 1, 2011
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"Warlight" by Michael Ondaatje
A dramatic coming-of-age story set in the decade after World War II, "Warlight" is the mesmerizing new novel from the best-selling author of "The English Patient." Pre-order today
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"Once upon a time there was a girl who was special. This is not her story. Unless you count the part where I killed her."
Sixteen-year-old Alison wakes up in a mental institution. As she pieces her memory back together, she realizes she's confessed to murdering Tori Beaugrand, the most perfect girl at school. But the case is a mystery. Tori's body has not been found, and Alison can't explain what happened. One minute she was fighting with Tori. The next moment Tori disintegrated--into nothing.
But that's impossible. No one is capable of making someone vanish. Right? Alison must be losing her mind--like her mother always feared she would.
For years Alison has tried to keep her weird sensory abilities a secret. No one ever understood--until a mysterious visiting scientist takes an interest in Alison's case. Suddenly, Alison discovers that the world is wrong about her--and that she's capable of far more than anyone else would believe.
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If Alison's "abilities" sound familiar to you, well, you've already got one rather large reveal (about 100 pages in) figured out. In the first three quarters of the book, we meet an interesting group of teen residents with various psychological conditions. We experience life in the institution through Alison's fresh, first-person voice (and through her heightened senses), and it's a beautiful voice. There's lovely prose living in these pages.
We also meet young, unconventional Dr. Faraday, a psychologist who takes great interest in Alison's case. He identifies her condition, helps her define her sensory abilities, lets her voice her fears, and insists that she is completely sane. As a confidant to Alison and an enigma to me, Faraday's character is enjoyable.
There's nothing in the majority of this book to indicate it's anything other than a contemporary psychological drama. Fortunately, I had read the back cover, which calls it "traditional science fiction." I read most of the book wondering when the sci-fi element would show up.
And then, show up it did, in spades. And then, far too soon ... the book ended.
To justify the plot, I can only compare this novel to THE TWILIGHT ZONE, but the comparison is a compliment. In a way, this novel is genius. That said, if I hadn't read the back cover (or ever watched THE TWILIGHT ZONE), I might have felt tricked. This book certainly has the most jarring plot twist I've ever read, because it doesn't merely twist the plot. It changes the genre and the tone and essentially everything. Since I'd been waiting for something like this to happen, I merely thought, <Ah, okay, there it is> and kept reading.
The problem isn't with the twist; it's with the location of the twist. If I could give half-stars, Ultraviolet might get 3.5, mostly for this reason. All the newly introduced elements of plot and storyworld and character beg for development. I want to care about these elements as much as I cared about the first 200+ pages, while Alison struggled with fellow inmates and her parents and other authority figures and her own scared, confused self. But I can't care as much as I want to, because they're on the page in a glorious reveal and then the pages run out.
However. There is a sequel. Excellent.
The first two-thirds of this book are phenomenal, positively five stars. It's the last third that will, I expect, give most people pause. Without spoiling for anything, the book basically flips from an introspective psychological thriller/mystery to another genre entirely.
Is that okay? Well... I feel like Rebecca Anderson does give her readers fair warning. After all, our synaesthete protagonist Alison believes she disintegrated school rival Tori. Either she's completely insane or there are forces at work that are not of this world. So I don't think the reader can protest that they've been completely hoodwinked.
That said, the first two thirds of the book do such a fine job skating that 'what is reality?' line that it's a pity that the author couldn't keep that going until the end. Her exploration of the way people's subjective experience of the physical world might differ is extremely fascinating.
Sixteen-year-old Alison experiences the world differently from most people: letters and sounds have colors and personalities; words have tastes. When Alison hears bells she sees golden stars. And when she sees the new girl in school, Tori Beaugrand, she hears a buzzing in her head that drives her crazy.
Literally, because the story opens with Alison waking up in the psych ward of a mental hospital. She's been out of it for two weeks, there are gaps in her memory and Tori has gone missing - and Alison was the last person to see her alive. Did Alison kill Tori? Is she insane or did her unusual senses allow her to witness something that is impossible? And in a mental institution, surrounded by troubled kids and skeptical shrinks, who can Tori trust?
Enter Dr. Sebastian Faraday, a scientist studying Alison's condition. Dr. Faraday may be the only one who can help Alison - if she can just avoid screwing things up by falling in love with her therapist.
Overall I liked the book a lot. The prose is very strong (I love the line: "And where the new girl had curves, I had only angles and despair."). The characters are complex and interesting. And though more psychological than action-packed, the plot keeps you turning pages. I am definitely interested in reading more from this author.
Most recent customer reviews
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