Review: Playing Dead

Playing Dead
Playing Dead by Julia Heaberlin
My rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

This one can surely be best summed up by Philip Larkin (1922 – 1985), in his poem ‘This Be The Verse’

“They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.”

There, that’s the nub of it in four lines. The book is a lot longer. Too long actually, for the events and/or (quality of) revelations that happen, or are made.

It starts, I suppose, promisingly enough. She returns home, to a huge family ranch in Texas, after the death of her father. Basically, to put the affairs in order and to start running the place, as her mother is on her last legs as well and has been taken into a care home. She starts unravelling the family’s affairs. But then her ‘What’s going on here?’, of the start of the story (where out of the blue, she gets a letter telling her she isn’t really who she thought her mum and dad had told her she was), changes to your ‘did I get what’s going on? Maybe I missed something’, later and at the end. Well, end-ings really. Because there are several. And they go on. And on. And I’m not sure I got all of what’s going on. And what’s more, I’m not sure I’m that bothered.

Playing Dead, is subtitled ‘A novel of suspense’. Well, it ain’t that. A novel of trying to figure out why what’s going on, is going on, maybe. Both for the heroine and for us. The story is a mess, her life is a mess, her family’s life is a mess and then, all her internal chat, her doubts, the flashbacks, the debates and and the day-dreaming makes her seem a ditherer, a dreamer, someone in need of a psychologist. And not one who analyses horses. Or unravel a mess. You’ve always got to suspect someone who still calls their mother and father ‘mummy’ and ‘daddy’ when they’re in their mid-something’s (I can’t remember how old she is). Doesn’t make you feel confident she’s capable of doing anything much more than ordering breakfast. And you’re not sure of that.

The story could have been a good one. But it fumbles and dithers and is stretched out and out and out. Too long. It delivers answers (I think), but it’s too little, too late.

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