The Woman in the Library came out on the 7th of June. This is not Sulari Gentill’s first book; she also has a 10 book long series Rowland Sinclair WWII Mysteries. The Woman in the Library is 292 pages long (at least the kindle version is) and it’s a work of epistolary fiction. It’s currently top of that list on the amazon charts.
What is epistolary fiction?
Epistolary fiction is when a novel is told through a series of letters, but it’s also a genre that expands to include novels that only have parts told through letters and contain other documents such as diary entries, newspaper clippings, emails, or are told entirely through these other documents. I’m linking the wikipedia page on this, but some really famous works that I’ve read are
The princess diaries
Griffin and Sabine (if you haven’t read this you’re really missing out)
Bridget jones diary
The diary of a london call girl
And these are the titles on the wikipedia page. If the genre is this broad, then I think most of us can come up with a dozen epistolary novels we’ve read.
Back to The Woman in the Library
Sulari Gentill’s new book is set towards the start of the pandemic. It starts off fairly wholesome. Our main character, Hannah, is writing another book (she’s a published writer) and corresponding with her pen pal and fan, Leo, and sending him chapters. Leo is also writing a novel but has been getting turned down by agents and publishers. As the pandemic sets in Hannah’s plans to visit the US get derailed, but she keeps writing the book. It’s an amateur sleuth novel (which is one of the genre’s that The Woman in the Library belongs to), while Leo keeps helping her by digging up information on the city the book is set in. Of course, as the novel progresses, we realise that there is much more going on.
Within the novel that Hannah writes we have four strangers bonded by a scream in the library. They end up becoming friends bonded by the murder and the weird stuff that happens to Freddie, the main character. We’re told by Leo who the killer is early (we can only presume that this is an email from Hannah to Leo as we never do see her emails), and it’s interesting to see the characters come to that conclusion slowly. We’re shown that Freddie really liked the killer and doesn’t want to believe it’s him; she’s the unreliable narrator but we’re also still curious to see if she’s right or not.
The Woman in the library has a banging plot. Like the plot is phenomenal (I’m not revealing anymore because spoilers) and so interesting that I had to finish the book. I just wish that Sulari Gentills writing matched up. This book has so much potential but it just fell short and it’s hard to explain that to another person unless they’ve read it but I’ll try.
Hannah sends each chapter to Leo to read. Leo reads the chapter and writes a short email back on how much he loves everything and sends her helpful information on the US. Those chapters are not well written. I couldn’t fathom anyone liking Cain or Freddie or chapter-Leo, or Whit or Marigold. Leo’s love of Marigold and love for everything Hannah wrote was a little annoying. On the one hand, that could be intentional, to show that this is a writer working through things, but on the other hand, as it formed the bulk of the book, it also took away from the novel, even though that plot was great. I would have liked to have seen better chapters sent from Hannah to Leo, and smaller corrections like phrases and things.
I saw the thing with email-Leo coming. I don’t know if other readers did or did not, but I didn’t mind that. Again, the plot is great. But my problem is that the chapters were not good enough to hold my interest and by the end I was skimming; at that point if there was a change in the style of Hannahs writing (which Leo pointed out was getting heavy handed), I didn’t pick up on it. Had those earlier chapters been more put together I would have loved seeing this happen. I also didn’t like the ending to the chapters, which could have been better done. I wish the killer was different; this felt like garbage.