The Girl on the Pier

The Girl on the Pier - Paul Tomkins Reseña en ESPAÑOL: en La Loca de los Libros!

There’s a tango called Nostalgias, that says something like this…

“If her love was short lived,
why is this cruel preoccupation
always living in me?
I want to drink for both of us
to forget this obsession,
but I remember her even more.”


That unbearable nostalgia, perfectly expressed in those beautiful lines regarding a lost love, is what the “The Girl on the Pier” reminded me of. At least, of course, during the first part.

PATRICK, the main character, is a forensic artist whose job is to make model-reconstructions of faces (clay reconstructions). His days go by between work (in present time, reconstructing the face of an unknown female victim, dead long ago, found in the Brighton Pier) and wallowing in sorrow; a painful remembrance of his past , of his “lost girls”: the women whom he loved but lost- forever attached to them, but forever abandoned by them.

My thoughts: (or...ramblings, perhaps?)

- You know those years, those teenage years, where the world doesn’t go beyond your own private spaces, your own hopes, your own personal lusts; when everything seems to be yours, and you no one really matters but yourself, and how everyone reacts to you. You know, that time when you’re a selfish and moody boy/girl; you think everyone you’re in touch with, owes you some attention- maybe you hate everyone, maybe you be love them but, still, you need approval of some kind.

Those times when your fist love is sacred, although unattainable, or impossible. The lens through which you see life is somehow tainted by a dream-like quality. So, when you grow up, those days seem perfect. Good or bad, every little thing that happened to you in those early years- that brief-but-painful introduction to adulthood- seems unreal (you know, the typical: “Did I really do this??”) Memories are tricky things, and when years go by, when you remember, the past days are somehow changed; either by a false perception of the past, or a false idolization.

While you are actually “surviving” those years, deep in a teenager's idea of the adult world, life has a sort-of-manic quality, where everything is allowed (or so you think so.)

During the first part of "The Girl in the Pier", I had those feelings. What Patrick reminisces is flooded with those sensations, those nostalgic moments of love and loss, emotions exaggerated, people idolized or demonized by the passing of time. Everything that happened before, in his early life, to him, is touched by sorrow, now transformed into a pathetic eternal mourning. Patrick suffers for what he regrets, and that suffering stops him from moving on; as if he were stuck in his teenage years, in his twenties, paralyzed in unforgettable moments where the woman he loved broke his heart.

So, exactly, what are we dealing with in this book? An unreliable narrator?, A liar? A poor little-boy-lost? An eternal seeker of love forever marked by the death of his mother? Or, maybe, just maybe, a mere simple guy trying to go on with life?

I have to admit that, at first, I was dreading what kind of character Patrick would turned out to be. I was afraid he would be like those kind of man-boys you read in some Young Adult novels: a smart “speshul” guy with a tendency to fall in love with “speshul” mysterious girls.
Luckily, the book proved me wrong.

The Writing

The real strength of this novel lies within its prose, in the way it is written.

The descriptions are absolutely beautiful:

“…so profuse is the sunlight permeating the broad windows that it’s like being outside.”

Among other beautiful paragraphs like…

“Knowledge>Grief. That is the key question. People would rather hear bad news than no news. They can just about handle the concept of a murdered son or daughter, parent or spouse, if they can eventually lay him or her to rest. The alternatives the mind throws up- in the dark of cluelessness- are often too disturbing to dwell upon.”

And how the story is told, is very interesting, too.

What is left unsaid, rather than what it is actually being said- those small improbabilities scattered throughout the novel- help fixing the puzzle that Patrick’s mind seems to be. You need to know how he feels about his past, to really understand how the before is connected to the now; and why is necessary for those stories to be told.

Structure

The novel can be divided like this- a different decade for each woman:

1- The mother, (Patrick’s childhood)
2- Genevieve, (Patrick’s teenage years)
3- Black, (Patrick’s twenties)
4- The Ex-Wife (Patrick thirties)
5- Marina (the unknown female victim), Patrick’s fifties. Present time

The changes of times are not marked, so it might be difficult to get used to them, to discern which decade Patrick is getting into. However, once the times are set, the variations in Patrick’s voices (from his teenage self to his adulthood), are easier to get accustomed to. (At least, that was what happened to me)

The Main Character

I’ll be blunt: Patrick is an unlikeable character. From the beginning, he adopts an irritating pose: always in mourning, always longing for the past, in a constant pursuit of an impossible future, a quest that seems pointless. The first part could be regarded as a long introduction to that nostalgic mind of his: a perhaps confusing, exhibition of memories that resemble nostalgic tango lyrics.

His dwelling in the past sometimes might seem boring or unnecessary, or maybe reminiscent of the tiring old stories of “great men” dreaming of manic pixie dream girls; and , indeed, for a few chapters I occasionally wondered what was the point of all this, that is, beyond wallowing in memories of mysterious women (although I gotta say, I always liked Black!); or delusions of a self-absorbed character whose only concern is how HE feels about those women rather than the women on their own, as individual people.

So, yes, it was difficult at first- for me – to feel interest for what was being told and for the person who was telling it. If it hadn’t had such a beautiful writing style, it might have been even more difficult for me to get involved with the story.

The narrator fools you into thinking that the mystery will go a certain way or end in a certain manner, only to get to the second part and…

BAM

And this, (this!) , part, is quite simply, the best THING ABOUT the novel.

The rest

Now, I cannot say anything because even just a simple opinion would spoil the plot. Therefore, I’ll abstain of writing too much (as if I haven’t already XD) and mention a few things only:

-the second part is a hurricane.
While some things might be predictable from the start, it is the way in which the narrator takes you through a quiet passage of truths, half-truths, details that seem unnecessary but might not be; what compels you to continue reading, what keeps you guessing until the end.
The last chapters are the inevitable arrival of the storm, and with it, the confusion and fear. The shock. The culmination of the slow-built mystery; the end of the road that actually takes you back again to the past and shows you everything from a different point of view.

And I absolutely loved it.

In Conclusion…

“The Girl on the pier” is a very good novel: Excellent prose, excellent building of suspense, an unlikeable protagonist with a distinctive narrative voice and a complex plot that keeps you guessing ‘till the very end.

It really took me by surprise!


This copy was provided by Netgalley in exchange for an honest review Thanks, Netgalley!