Sunday, January 24, 2016

6 Heart Review: The Furies by Natalie Haynes

The Furies
Natalie Haynes

Page Count: 297

Release Date: November 17th 2015 (US Paperback)
Publisher: St. Martin's Press (MacMillan)
Source: Complimentary copy provided by publisher in exchange for an honest and unbiased review (thank you, St. Martin's Press!)
Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥

After losing her fiancé in a shocking tragedy, Alex Morris moves from London to Edinburgh to make a break with the past. Formerly an actress, Alex accepts a job teaching drama therapy at a school commonly referred to as "The Unit," a last-chance learning community for teens expelled from other schools in the city. Her students have troubled pasts and difficult personalities, and Alex is an inexperienced teacher, terrified of what she's taken on and drowning in grief.

Her most challenging class is an intimidating group of teenagers who have been given up on by everyone before her. But Alex soon discovers that discussing the Greek tragedies opens them up in unexpected ways, and she gradually develops a rapport with them. But are these tales of cruel fate and bloody revenge teaching more than Alex ever intended? And who becomes responsible when these students take the tragedies to heart, and begin interweaving their darker lessons into real life with terrible and irrevocable fury?

Natalie Haynes's The Furies is a psychologically complex, dark, and twisting novel about loss, obsession and the deep tragedies that can connect us to each other even as they blind us to our fate.
I met them on the 6th of January 2011, in the basement room at 58 Rankeillor Street. And I wouldn't have believed any of them could do something so monstrous.

Theater director Alex Morris flees to Edinburgh in wake of her fiancé's brutal, unexpected death, seeking the position of a grade school drama teacher as refuge. But her background is not education, and this is no ordinary school; dubbed "The Unit," this alternative learning center takes in teenagers who have nowhere else to go, other than correctional facilities. The most troubled of these students, the oldest of the bunch, stand out to Alex as the darkest, the most mysterious, even though on the surface, they just seem like normal, albeit temperamental, adolescents.

The anxieties of a novice teacher and both the languid aftermath of tragedy are excellently portrayed through Alex's first-person voice. Although her character is rather stale and boring, I could easily relate to her concern for the troubled students, and her grief over her fiancé. When one particular student's interest is piqued by this newcomer teacher, Alex finds herself in a freaky whirlwind of events where the haunting tragedy of her past and the eerie environment of The Unit intersect.

Based loosely off Agamemnon and incorporating other Greek mythological symbols and themes into the plot line, The Furies is a provocative account of the danger of obsession and curiosity and the urgency for vengeance. Greek tragedies are discussed in vivid detail in Alex's classroom lessons, which I found fascinating. However, overall I found this book to be rather disappointing because it is lacking just a hair in every other area: a relatable but oftentimes lifeless protagonist, intriguing yet shallowly written character relationships, and a back-and-forth narration that had potential, but was ultimately exhausting.

Told in alternating past and present narratives, The Furies slowly unravels what happened before, and what happened after, but doesn't reveal what actually happened, until the near-end in a rather unexciting climax. I felt the tension regarding the uneasiness surrounding the students is well conveyed, but the "terrible and irrevocable fury" is not what I expected. The dark twist isn't necessarily predictable, but it just isn't thrilling, especially after all the long, slow (veerry slow) rising action that precedes it.

Pros


Incredible suspense created // Original, vibrant plot // Characters are memorable and entirely take on their own personalities within the story

Cons


Rather flat climax and ending // Past/present narratives are confusing // Slowly paced // As much as I loved the basic plot, I just don't think it was executed phenomenally; overall, I just didn't find it as electrifying as I expected it to be // Alex's voice is monotonous—it just didn't capture my attention most of the time

Verdict


Tied closely to common themes of Greek tragedy including revenge, fate vs. free will, and obsession, The Furies is a compelling exploration of the power that comes with awareness and education, as well as the power of naïve youth. While I found this novel to be thought-provoking in its discussion of grief and humanity, the thriller aspects were lost on me because of the rather anticlimactic ending—it could have been accomplished more cleverly. Regardless, Natalie Haynes's unusual plot and smooth-flowing storytelling combine memorably in this debut; it's certainly unlike any other book I've read before Americanflag

6 hearts: Decent for a first read, but I'm not going back; this book is decidedly average (whatever that means!) (x)