ARC Review: “The Woman in the Library,” by Sulari Gentill

Hello happy readers! I am again late on an ARC, but feel this may work in my favor. The Woman in the Library by Sulari Gentill is an atmospheric, meta novel that has just enough creeping dread to make it a great fall read, despite its June release date. Thank you, Netgalley and Poisoned Pen Press, for this amazing opportunity!

From the Publisher:

In every person’s story, there is something to hide…

The ornate reading room at the Boston Public Library is quiet, until the tranquility is shattered by a woman’s terrified scream. Security guards take charge immediately, instructing everyone inside to stay put until the threat is identified and contained. While they wait for the all-clear, four strangers, who’d happened to sit at the same table, pass the time in conversation and friendships are struck. Each has his or her own reasons for being in the reading room that morning—it just happens that one is a murderer.

Award-winning author Sulari Gentill delivers a sharply thrilling read with The Woman in the Library, an unexpectedly twisty literary adventure that examines the complicated nature of friendship and shows us that words can be the most treacherous weapons of all.


What I Loved:

  • The Characters. Freddie, Marigold, Whit, and Cain are four strangers that bond after being at the same table in the Boston library when a woman is killed. Winnie and Cain are writers and studies of character who blossom into friends and more. Marigold is a tattooed, kick ass psychology major, loyal friend, and a *little* crazy, who is in love with Whit the perpetual Harvard Law student with mommy issues. As the four of them continue to hang out more, romances blossom, secrets come out, and they are all in danger… or are they? In the background is Leo the neighbor, but also Leo the writer’s helper. Similar characters, but very different functions to the story. I loved them all. Gentill creates such rich characters, all with flaws and secrets and layers like onions. You could picture eating ridiculous donuts and crying over a glass of wine with each of them, you see each character in the people you walk by in the city. Complex characters are hard to find in some thrillers, but not here.
  • The Atmosphere/Setting. Picture Boston in the fall heading towards winter. It is “college” season, with everyone going to and from colleges, seeking warm libraries and hot coffee, glasses of wine and romance. And yet, a layer of dread hangs in the air, of anticipation. A girl from one of those very Boston schools is dead in our narrator’s book. Multiple women from real-world Boston are turning up dead. Women are being stalked, “gifts” are showing up with no senders, and it is hard to trust anyone: even those closest to you. That is what pervades Woman in the Library. It is eerie, it is spooky, and it makes you want to cuddle up with your blanket and wine.
  • The “Story in the Story“, second half. I will admit, the meta nature of Woman in the Library completely threw me for the first third of the book. I was having a hard time separating the “real” author based in Australia from the character writer currently living in Boston, and the “real” Leo the proofreader from book Leo, a writer in residence in Boston and Winnie’s neighbor. The real world letters from Leo to the author also threw me out of “fantasy land,” like when he brings up masks, wildfires, and other insanity going on in the real world. However, as the pace picks up and the suspense builds, I was able to not only understand the split storyline but become deeply invested in both the novel characters and the “real life” author’s issues. I devoured the second half of this book, anxiously awaiting resolutions to both stories.

What Didn’t Work as Well:

  • “Story in the story” first half: On the flip side, when I first began Woman in the Library, I was deeply confused. None of the promotional material for this book mentioned that the characters in the book are actually actively being written by the “main” character, a writer in Australia, and that the murder in the book is not the “real” murder we are trying to solve. I was confused at the onset, and almost put down Woman in the Library” after the first two chapters. If this wasn’t an ARC, I might have.
  • The “Actual” Author. Due to the set up as described above, the “actual” writer of the characters, Hannah Tigone is never actually heard from throughout The Woman in the Library. The only way we know her is through correspondence with “real Leo” and with the FBI. I never got a real sense of what this woman was really like, which I guess was the intent since she is the “author,” but still felt like a loss.

Conclusion:

Woman in the Library was an amazing, complex mystery with multi-faceted characters that suffered from criminally inept marketing. I hope everyone that loves complex mysteries and enigmatic writing picks this up to see Ms. Gentill’s genius, but understand that this is off-putting for some readers. Four waves! Pick up your copy here and tell me your thoughts!

Best quote:

“I am a bricklayer without drawings, laying words in sentences, sentences into paragraphs, allowing my walls to twist and turn on whim…no framework…just bricks interlocked…no idea what I’m building or if it will stand…no symmetry, no plan, just the chaotic unplotted bustle of human life…[Am I] just a woman in the library with a blank page before her?”

— Sulari Gentill

2 thoughts on “ARC Review: “The Woman in the Library,” by Sulari Gentill

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