Thursday, January 7, 2016

Book Review: "What She Knew" by Gilly Macmillan

"What She Knew" by Gilly Macmillan
First published in 2015
467 pages
My rating: 2 out of 5
Image from Goodreads

The Short Of It:

Basically, I hated this book.
ETA: This book is pretty well-liked and, right now, it has a crazy number of 4- and 5-star reviews on Goodreads. Just goes to show not every book is for every reader! If you think it sounds like something you'd like, give it a try and hopefully you'll be in the majority. But if, after 100 or so pages, you feel like I did, put it down because it does not get better.

The Long Of It:
What a bummer. My reading year got off to a fantastic start with a 5-star read ("Furiously Happy" by Jenny Lawson) and then promptly took a nosedive with the disappointing debut "What She Knew," a novel about the search for an 8-year-old boy who vanished while on a walk in the woods with his mom.

The most glaring problem with the book is that it's billed as a psychological thriller -- and the cover even proclaims that it's as gripping as "The Girl on The Train." But it's really just a straight-up mystery -- and a slow-moving one at that. It didn't have the requisite twists, turns, unreliable narrators and jaw-dropping reveals of a proper psychological thriller. I kept waiting and waiting for the big game-changer and it never came. It was nothing like "The Girl on the Train."

The novel is told from the perspectives of two narrators, the mom of the missing boy and the lead detective on the case, and I didn't like either one. The mom is naive and whiny, and the detective -- whose story is told in the form of forced chats with the police psychologist -- is apparently irrevocably screwed up from working the case, but I never figured out what he was so torn up about because he didn't do anything wrong. Even after sticking with them for almost 500 pages, I never felt the slightest bit connected to either narrator.

I was also irritated by the sub-plot about the public vilification of the mother, which even escalated to vandalism of her property, all because -- after much internal debate -- she let her boy trot ahead a short distance to a specified spot on a path they walked weekly. She's not a neglectful mother who "left her child unsupervised" -- instead (and it pains me to admit this because I disliked her so much) she's a good mother who takes her son on weekly outings where he gets exercise, fresh air and exposure to nature, things kids these days are in dire need of.

Hand-in-hand with the over-the-top defamation of the mother online, by the media, and even by the police were the online news articles inserted every few chapters, complete with the most stereotypical reader comments imaginable. There was the religious zealot, the complete imbecile, the jerk using the anonymity of the internet to write nasty things he'd never normally say, and of course the brilliant folks whose posts are full of grammatical errors and horrendous misspellings -- but they were almost all united in hating the "bad mother's" guts. Reading comments online in real life makes me question the state of humanity, and the last place I want to encounter them is in the escape of a novel. The news-plus-comments sections of the book, while an attempt a realism, felt contrived and forced, and I didn't think they really added to the story.

Just two more points before the bitch-fest is over! The circumstances surrounding the disappearance itself bothered me. The way the child vanished didn't make sense -- I even interrupted my husband's TV-watching to rant about it, and he was kind enough to agree with me even if he wasn't really listening -- but I can't say more without spoilers.  Also, the writing lacked polish and the editing could have been much tighter. Not to mention the book got off to such a slow and boring start that I almost gave it up more than once. Chopping 100 or even 50 pages off would help a lot.

I will say that "What She Knew" is rated at over 4 stars on Goodreads, which usually means it's a pretty decent read, but it just rubbed me the wrong way over and over again. If you decide to give it a try, I sure hope you're with the majority of readers who liked it. Reading a disappointing book, especially such a long one, really sucks.


  1. Sounds terrible on a number of levels! I won't be seeking this one out.

    1. I really did think it was sorta terrible... but apparently nobody else did! I was surprised at how highly rated it is in Goodreads. So many 5-star reviews! So, if you think it sounds up your alley, you should still give it a try.

  2. I do have this one on my TBR list and wonder how I will react! Sorry it ended up being a disappointing read for you.

    1. You should definitely give it a try. Apparently everyone else loved it. But... if after 100 pages you feel like I did, I'd say it's not worth finishing! :)


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