All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: The Other Passenger by Louise Candlish

on July 17, 2020

The Other Passenger
Louise Candlish
Simon & Schuster AUS
2020, 400p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

You’re feeling pretty smug about your commute to work by riverboat. No more traffic gridlock or getting stuck on the tube in tunnels (you’re claustrophobic). Now you’ve got fresh air, an iconic Thames view, a whole lifestyle upgrade. You’ve made new friends on board — led by your hedonistic young neighbour, Kit — and just had your first official ‘water rats’ get-together.

The day after the drinks, Kit isn’t on the morning boat. The river landmarks are all the same, but something’s off. When you disembark, the police are waiting. Kit’s wife, Melia, has reported him missing and another passenger saw you arguing on the last boat home after your drinks. Police say you had a reason to lash out at him. To threaten him.

You protest. You and Kit are friends — ask Melia, she’ll vouch for you. And who exactly is pointing the finger? What do they know about your private lives?

No, whatever coincidences might have occurred last night, you are innocent, totally innocent.

Aren’t you?

This is one of those twisty-turny type stories in the realm of Gone Girl or something like that where nothing is as it seems and just as you think you’ve got it all figured out, there’s another twist that is supposed to shock you. The thing is sometimes, when you’ve read a few of these types of books, you come to expect the unexpected….and when the twist comes, it’s not really all that shocking anymore. And this is to be honest, kind of what happened here.

James is almost 50 and about a year ago, after a panic attack on a train, he resigned from his marketing job. He’s supposed to have been looking for a “proper job” ever since but because he suffers from extreme claustrophobia and has trouble riding the tube or even just normal trains during peak hour, he got a job at a cafe as a barista. For his high flying partner of 10 years Clare, this isn’t really acceptable for someone of their age and status and she’s always pushing him to be more, do more, look for something better. When Clare meets Melia, a young woman who has just started at the real estate company Clare works at, the two become friends and soon she and James are having regular dinners with Melia and her partner Kit, even though Melia and Kit are around 30. For a while the age difference doesn’t seem to matter. James and Kit travel to work together on the same riverboat and for a while, it’s all fun and a bit wild, James enjoying reliving some younger days. But things get a bit complicated and the Monday before Christmas, he and Kit have a bit of an argument. When James returns, Kit doesn’t meet him on the boat and he’s met by police officers at the other end. They say Kit never came home after that argument…and they seem to think the reason for that is James.

For me, most of the problem was that there was nothing to connect me to any of the characters and therefore, to the story. Clare and James are older, securely comfortable thanks to Clare being basically gifted a house by her parents that they’d bought when the area wasn’t anywhere near as expensive. From the outside looking in they are all wealth and privilege and although Clare has a great job and James did too, most of their wealth is tied up in a house that remains in trust. By contrast, Kit and Melia are in debt, struggling to pay their bills each month, maxed out credit cards and behind in their rent. They have aspirations though and are obsessed with money (particularly Kit) and wanting to be and have more than they are. The constant griping about money and moaning about the people that have it gets tedious, even though I do understand some of the complaints. London is a notoriously expensive city to live in with ridiculous housing prices. There are many cities around the world just like it and it can be incredibly demoralising to go to work and work hard and yet still not have enough at the end of the week for the most basic of necessities to survive, but there’s always money for drinks in expensive bars and coke habits. And although housing instability is incredibly stressful, Kit and Melia want a champagne lifestyle they think is due them and aren’t prepared to budget to pay off their debts or avoid accumulating anymore which makes it hard to be as sympathetic as you could be. Kit in particular comes across as so entitled, so openly judgemental and resentful of anyone who has more than he does, especially when he misjudges James’ situation. At the moment James earns what is basically “pin money”, but the fact that they have no mortgage or rent and Clare’s decent job means their lifestyle seems much more wealthy from the outside than they are, although they are incredibly comfortable. So much of the earlier narrative and even later on, revolves around money: who has it, who does not, who wants it and just how far are they willing to go to have it.

I did find quite a lot of this predictable, and the pacing is very uneven. It lags a lot in the middle, the book feels too long and then at the end there are several chapters post what I thought could easily be the last chapter. It just keeps going on, but I found most of the twists and reveals not really that shocking and a lot of them actually feel more foretold than surprising. James is an insipid narrator, a cliche with nothing to recommend him. Clare was probably the only person in this book not completely despicable and who doesn’t do heinous things to pretty much everyone around her.

5/10

Book #129 of 2020


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