The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle – Stuart Turton

Well.
If I understand perfectly the popularity of this book, and liked it for some aspects, it still is very disappointing for many points.

What I liked:

– The writing is good, with a strong atmosphere, and there’s no frustration in the beginning, the reader gets to understand the particularities of Aiden’s situation all in good time, that’s too say, rather early.

– The choice of making Aiden living, not only in his hosts’ bodies but in their minds, without any or very very few of their memories, but with their disposition, temperament and brains is rather awesome, and beautifully spun.

– The persona of the Plague Doctor is interesting and well used to create a strong sense of dread and hope mixed together. The footman’s one is just okay, a little bit over the top, though.

– The all hoops thing is interesting to ponder about, as this kind of theme always is.

What I didn’t like:

Firstly are the so numerous many logical flaws.

– When Aiden awakes in his first body, he only thinks that he’s suffering from a dramatic memory loss. He remembers absolutely nothing about him, just generalities as how to speak and eat and dress and so on. But when somebody hints that he should go home and all will be fine, he agrees, never wondering how he will live without knowing anything about his home, his job (he’s a doctor) his family, his anything!

In the same trend, when the Plague Doctor explains the whole thing, how he’ll have tolive eight times the same day in eight different bodies and explain the murder in the end and if he fails he’ll have to do it all over again, Aiden doesn’t ask The Question! Anybody would have asked, even as overwhelmed as Aiden is, « how many times do have I already done these eight days ? »! But no. The reader have to wait quite a long time before the Plague Doctor answers The Question (about thirty years; that’s so not a detail! For instance in « Groundhog Day » we have an indication by the character ability to play the piano in the end, it’s not irrelevant to know about the time, the real time, it’s fondamental for our brains!)

– There are a lot of violence in the story, during one day in one place, people disappear, are badly hurt, are murdered, and nobody seem to care, the show must go on, really?

The main coherence is very weak. The story, as told in the end, is interesting in itself. But the manner used by Aiden to solve it is, in my eyes, completely absurd. He does that, and say that, and ask that, but why? No explanation is never offered, no logical steps are never set out, he does all that randomly (well maybe not, maybe I’m just plain stupid :P), haphazardly, and it works!
I really liked the beginning, but the more I read, the more I felt lost and confused. I know that my memory at the first contact isn’t good, it never was, but one could hope that having the possibility to see the same day eight times, even the wrong order and from eight different points of view, will conduct to more enlightenment in the end of the book.
I couldn’t help thinking that the author was voluntarily muddling about to make the final revelations more stunning. It didn’t work for me.

– The author seems to believe in insta-friendship: Aiden spends one hour with Evelyne, he’s her bestie forever, she’s lovely, and kind, and considerate, she deserves the best. That for three or four hosts, then he began to forget a bit about his infatuation. In the same time he develops (in eight days only and in a few hours spent together, all in all) an other insta-friendship with Anna.
I never felt any real attachement between Aiden and Anna; the author insist, and insist, but their relation could never be more then a strong alliance in hard times.
How could Aiden’s friendship with Anna be dependable when he was able to develop the very same kind of friendship after a few hours with Evelyne, whom wasn’t even a real person? The author in the same time proves us that Aiden could develop an everlasting affection for a fraud and affirms that his affection for Anna is sufficiently valid to justify his attitude towards her, even when he finds out the truth about her?! To forgive her what she did without any doubt or reluctance?
How very very weird…
(To digress, the subject of the responsibility for ones acts one could be hold for, if all their memories were erased, is a fascinating one, and would maybe have deserved more development)

There is also one very unattractive flaw in this book: the fat-shaming.

One strong point about the narration is the very realistic way in which Aiden awakes and lives in the different bodies of his hosts. I understand how it could be strange, and awkward, and tiring for him to be in the body of an oldish obese man. But I was made very uncomfortable by the insistance of the author of lavishly describing the disgusting body of the host (nothing would be spared) and telling us is the same breath that the host is a bad person.
There is one a hint of empathy, when Aiden wonders how someone could get so obsessed and miserable about food, and the host is described very clever. But I can’t remember a real explanation about his supposed malignity. He’s disgustingly fat and so is his character: that’s the logic.

Grossophobie / fatphobia is disgusting, Stuart, not fat persons!!

The ending:

As expected I imagined some explanations (not for the murder, as explained earlier I didn’t feel that I had the clues for that) but about the reality behind the whole thing. I thought about a game (the text of presentation tries to make the reader believe it) or about a very innovative way of curing brain disorders. The author’s idea is great, and I liked it.
But, but… where is the end? The real ending? When the reader learns about the reality behind the scenes? How does it work? Are they in real bodies? or are they clones? androids? is it in fact a cerebral simulation or such?
No explanation is ever offered, what a very lazy author! Booooh!

I absolutely loathed such open endings: « Go and chose your own explanation, dear reader; I haven’t one ready to be honest, and no time to lose thinking about it, but please indulge yourself, your guess will be good as mine! »
He could at least made an effort, but no. Aiden and Anna just go away, in their bodies, Anna have spend 30 years in hers, still young, yep, Aiden just keeps the last he got as a host, he’s not interested about his real body of real life, and they just… walk away, riding in the sunset ^-^

To conclude a very original idea, good writing, a sense of atmosphere, but an execution somewhat wobbly, and personal flaws lurking about (pretty women are to be cherished and can’t, deep down in their heart, be really bad, plain ones who hide behind make-up are very possibly very bad, obese men are mean and despicable), and a very childish way not to concern himself with the rigours of coherence and logic.