The Trap, Melanie Raabe

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This is, once again, a book I picked up from the airport (I’m flying home again next week, maybe I should leave my purse behind!). The premise seemed fascinating, however the execution was rather… dull. I started the book and at first was very put off by the almost child-like writing style. A few chapters in, I realised this novel is a translation from German, and that Raabe is a German author. Perhaps this goes someway to excuse the simplistic writing style, however, having read translations of classics, a translation doesn’t have to feel like it is a translation – if it is translated well enough then it can transfer superbly to its new language. Look at Les Mis (the musical). Originally written in French, surely we all now know the English words through their flawless transformation. So being immediately put off by the writing style, I suppose I wasn’t expecting great things from the novel, but the premise was still really promising and had a lot of potential scope. Unfortuantely, I don’t feel like Raabe explored this to its full potential, which is a shame, because all the elements are there.

Linda

Linda’s sister, Anna, was murdered, and after over a decade of living as a recluse, she sees the murderer’s face on TV and develops an elaborate plot to get him to confess. Linda is a famous author who never gives interviews; she decides to write a novel containing her sister’s murder, and offer an interview to the man she knows killed Anna – the journalist Lenzen.

Linda is most definitely the most well developed and human character. At first, her idolisation of Anna seems off putting, but Raabe goes to great effort to establish that it is simply a symptom of the shock that Linda never really recovered from. From the sounds of it, Anna and Linda had a very normal sisterly relationship, which became enshrined in Linda’s memory when she discovered her sister’s body. Linda’s slips into depression, insanity and other mentally unwell states are well described, however I am not certain the author has experienced them herself, as they often seemed stilted and uncertain. Raabe uses brilliant analogies, such as ‘the earthquake’ (the discovery of Lenzen’s face on TV) and drowning (whenever Linda becomes out of control).

I did have an issue with the exploration of Linda’s illness towards the end of the novel. Raabe rather underplays agoraphobia almost as if it doesn’t really exist. She describes Linda as ‘playing along’ with the journalists and spectators who label her with a ‘mystery illness’, when really, she is genuinely unwell with a condition that does exist, and I just feel like Raabe doesn’t understand that as she undermines it frequently throughout the novel.

Fact or fiction?

In the course of The Trap, Linda experiences several very vivid dreams of potential situations and outcomes, which seem to be happening but are then explained with simple phrases such as ‘that is how it could have happened’. THIS WAS REALLY FRUSTRATING! I felt like Raabe was treating us like a young audience, unable to see the descent into madness that Linda was experiencing and needing constant hand holding and guidance to the ‘correct’ response.

Raabe works extremely hard to create an atmosphere of uncertainty, but provides a very definite ending. This was extremely disappointing. Having journeyed with Linda through her uncertainty, it would have been much more effective to have an ambiguous ending, where Lenzen is assigned blame for the crime, but the reader is not 100% certain due to anomalies within the ending. It is frustrating to see Raabe throw away her build up and very skilfully developed plot twisting, to provide a romantic, satisfactory and ‘vanilla’ ending.

A lot of the aspects of Linda’s madness seemed to be rushed. I feel like there is a certain requirement in modern literature to try to keep original novels short, so they will be read by the educated mass. However, in something as intricate as this, detailing a mental illness, a 12 year old crime and a conflicted protagonist, there would have been no harm in drawing it out, spending more time with the characters so that we become more attached to them. This is why I am having to force myself to read so much modern literature at the moment – I’m not drawn to it in the same way that I am more classical or traditional fantasy literature because it lacks the detail and the relationship that you develop.

Conclusion

It was an average novel, with some interesting twists, told in a below-average narrative. I wouldn’t say it was massively worth the trouble reading, which is a shame because the premise was so promising. Good luck in the future, though, Melanie Raabe!

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