Review: The Expats

Review: The Expats

It’s slightly ironic that the latest book I read as part of my Bookclub, and have been planning to blog about here, was The Expats, by Chris Pavone. Ironic because the main theme I wanted to comment on is that of the ‘stay at home mum’, which the book touches on (oddly, for what is essentially a spy thriller!), and of course my last post dealt with the same topic from a political angle.

In general, I found the book very slightly underwhelming – though I think I have Patricia Cornwell to blame for that, really. It’s not a genre I read very often, but I have read a lot of Patricia Cornwell’s high-action, high-danger, high-suspense work, so when I saw on the cover that she had described it as ‘Bristling with suspense’, it formed an expectation of the contents that was not really warranted.

(This is where I have to grudgingly admit that perhaps eReaders have an advantage over actual books, in that coming to them you have only the words through which to form your opinions and expectations. An actual book tells you so much even before you’ve opened the cover, and a badly-chosen cover image, or misguided endorsement quote can be entirely misleading. But that’s a topic for another post…)

The Expats is a good book. It’s well-crafted, with an interesting storyline, a structure that keeps you on your toes, and a very believable main character.

The novel is written entirely from the perspective of Kate, ex-CIA agent turned stay-at-home mum, and one thing that stood out to me was how well the (male) author captured her voice and the inner workings of her mind.

Alongside the primary storyline runs an undercurrent of Kate second-guessing herself and wrestling with whether her suspicions about some mysterious friends of her and her husband are just paranoid imaginings generated by a brain that is bored with sorting laundry and tidying toys.

I appreciated the fact that a novel would raise this question, and handle it so well. Kate really struggles to know what her value and role is any more. She’s used to a very independent, high-powered job where she was respected and felt successful. Now she is doing something which she knows in her head is valuable, and for which many women would envy her, but her heart struggles to feel that bringing up children is at least as important as bringing down subversive political leaders. Her brain isn’t being stimulated, her husband doesn’t seem to appreciate her or give her the time and attention she craves when he gets back from the office, so naturally she hankers after the old days…while recognising that they have gone and she can’t recreate them.

As with most stories, the children don’t really impinge much on her life – they are always conveniently occupied when the narrative needs her to be able to get on with something, which any mother will tell you is somewhat contrary to reality – but they’re there and they do give the character and hence the story a depth that perhaps they wouldn’t have had were Kate still in full-time paid work.

It’s a good read, that will keep you turning the pages, though don’t expect suspense or high-drama, it’s much gentler than that, but I applaud Chris Pavone for daring to think and talk about bigger, deeper, more universal issues in a popular thriller genre.

My rating: 4/5

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