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Book review: The Fury by Alex Michaelides

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By Simon Demetriou

When, at the very end of the book, Alex Michaelides’ narrator Elliot Chase addresses the reader with the line, ‘I’m certainly no good at writing stories’, I suspect he intends you to smile wryly at the self-deprecation of both Elliot and – by extension – Michaelides, who have just spun you such a wonderful tale. Only you don’t. You agree. Because, unfortunately, The Fury isn’t a very good story.

Much of the problem is Elliot. He’s insufferable. Now, since almost all the other characters find him insufferable too, you might argue that we’re not meant to like him either – especially once his real nature, and deeds, come to light. But that’s not enough to let a writer off. After all, if everyone just wrote books in the first person with narrators who claim to be bad at writing and who everyone hates, that doesn’t turn bad novels into good novels because they were ‘trying to be bad’. A narrator you loathe but can’t stop listening to is one thing. A narrator you just want to shut up is quite another.

The next problem is all the other characters. They’re bland cut-outs you’ve seen before: ethereal beauty with a sad past; drunk, temperamental, flirtatious thesp; handsome, crooked city financier; devoted servant; silently brooding obsessive loner; and an angsty teen with nothing to be angsty about. They interact exactly how you’d guess from their descriptions. And because you’ve met all these people so many times before, you’ll remember none of them once you put the book down.

Oh, and everyone talks like either a character out of Eastenders (‘You’re fucked in the head, mate’) or a pre-transformation Eliza Doolittle (‘I ain’t no lady’). If you’ve ever met a real English person, this will probably annoy you. It annoyed me rather a lot.

Of course, in a whodunit (or, as Elliot tediously and pointlessly insists on calling it, ‘a whydunit’), a pacy plot with some effective twists can atone for a lot. You won’t find that here. Elliot’s self-indulgent ramblings mean the story takes an age to start, and then, between the flashbacks and asides, the meat of the plot gets skimmed over. To give the novel its due, there’s one good twist. But the identity of the murderer, and the motive, become easily guessable with well over a third of the novel to go, which on top of the irritation of having to deal with Elliot’s narration, makes finishing the book a bit of a slog.

It feels like a cheap shot, and it probably is, but Michaelides lists his influences in the book’s acknowledgements. If you want a good mystery to read, you should probably start there.

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