Sunday, 26 July 2015

The Girl Who Wasn't There by Ferdinand von Schirach

The Girl Who Wasn't There by Ferdinand von Schirach
GenreMystery & Thrillers, Literature, Fiction
Pages: 224
Format: e-ARC
ISBN: 9780349140469
PublisherLittle Brown Book Group UK
Source: Publisher/Netgalley

Waterstones Book of the Month (July 2015)

Sebastian von Eschburg, scion of a wealthy, self-destructive family, survived his disastrous childhood to become a celebrated if controversial artist. He casts a provocative shadow over the Berlin scene; his disturbing photographs and installations show that truth and reality are two distinct things.
When Sebastian is accused of murdering a young woman and the police investigation takes a sinister turn, seasoned lawyer Konrad Biegler agrees to represent him - and hopes to help himself in the process. But Biegler soon learns that nothing about the case, or the suspect, is what it appears. The new thriller from the acclaimed author of The Collini CaseThe Girl Who Wasn't There is dark, ingenious and irresistibly gripping.

My Thoughts:
My initial response on completion was that I didn't like the book. I felt uncomfortable with some of the subject matter. The prose in the first half felt clunky, clipped and disjointed. Then the second half felt more coherent and better put together. The two halves felt disconnected; two different books. Overall, 'The Girl Who Wasn't There' was an interesting read but one which at times felt rather arty and pretentious with too much poetic ambiguous embellishment and at times I was either confused or irritated by it.  A rather odd little crime novel !

After pulling it apart to find out why I didn't like the book, I actually began to appreciate how clever Ferdinand von Schirach had been in creating this complex novel and that what I disliked was not the book itself but my reaction to particular scenes and subject matter. However on reflection I think they were necessary to tune into the mindset of the character concerned.  I won't divulge what these scenes were as it would spoil the storyline and enjoyment of the read for others.  Everything it seems was intended to offend or provoke some form of reaction or thought response. A rather clever little crime novel !

My main concern for 'The Girl Who Wasn't There' is that readers will give up after the first half perhaps feeling as I did, alienated and disconnected to Sebastian von Eschburg and therefore, not give it the chance it deserves.

The pacing of first half of the book is slow, dark, abstract and disjointed with short, sharp sentences.  It concentrates on Sebastian von Eschburg a ten year old boy who is different to most children his age. He sees the world around him in the form of colours rather than objects.
"He saw what other people saw, but in his mind the colours were different. His nanny’s hands were cyan and amber; his hair, as he saw it, shone violet with a touch of ochre; his father’s skin was a pale greenish blue."
Sebastian lives a lonely, detached existence and after his father's suicide he is sent away to boarding school by his emotionally absent mother where he becomes ever more insular.  It is at boarding school where he finds an outlet and is able to make sense of the world with his new found interest in photography in which he develops a real talent.
The second half of the book focuses on Monika Landau, the prosecutor, and Konrad Biegler, the defence lawyer who Sebastian requests to represent him when he is accused of murder in unusual circumstances.  This half is in total contrast and is faster paced, much more engaging and rewarding and ultimately leads to the (not too unexpected in my case) conclusion.
For me the main weakness in the book is the title itself. Originally entitled 'Tabu' for its German publication it was renamed 'The Girl Who Wasn't There' for its English speaking audience. Interesting and complex a plot as it is, it fell flat at the 'big reveal', and to my mind the former title is more suited due to the provocative themes in the main of the storyline, rather than the latter which focuses on its conclusion.
Not a must read book but certainly an interesting and thought provoking one including themes of violence, the representation of sex and violence as an art form, sex trafficking, and torture.
'The Girl Who Wasn't There' by Ferdinand von Schirach, a defence attorney himself and author of 'The Collini Case' is most definitely not your usual crime thriller and certainly not going to be for everyone but I'd definitely recommend it to those who have read, 'The Collini Case'  and Albert Camus' 'The Stranger' and to those appreciative in the arts particularly art vs pornography and the justice system.
A great choice for book reading groups with plenty of 'food for thought' topics for discussion.
Disclaimer: A complimentary copy of 'The Girl Who Wasn't There' was provided by Liitle Brown via Netgalley in exchange for an unbiased review.

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