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Book review: <i>Ripper</i> by Isabel Allende

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the cover of the book

A serial-killer-thriller all twisted up in Allende's very distinctive style? How could I pass this reading opportunity up? Well, I couldn't.

The story

Indiana Jackson has a gift. She's a Reiki healer and a massage therapist, and she lives happily with her teenage daughter Amanda and her father Blake in California. Her gift isn't just intuiting people's sickness and healing them, it's also in her voluptuous beauty, which draws people in and holds them. Indi works in a holistic clinic, rides a bike, can't bear to see anybody in pain, and she has lots of odd friends and acquaintances who adore her. One of those friends is Celeste Rocke, astrologer, who proclaimed a bloodbath was forecast in their city.

When the bodies start dropping, the only person who notices is Amanda Jackson. She's Indi's precocious, no-nonsense daughter, who's only vice is playing games-master in the online game she created, called Ripper. Originally made up to try and uncover the identity of Jack the Ripper, Amanda and her rag-tag bunch of fellow Ripper players from around the globe decide to uncover the secrets of this new bloodbath that has befallen her city, with the help of her father and grandfather.

The game takes a serious turn when people close to Amanda become victims, and it's a race against time. Can Amanda save those closest to her before it's too late?

The style

It's been a while since I read Allende, even so, her style is immediately recognisable, and it certainly hasn't faded with time. I remember my first Allende was House of Spirits, which is an incredibly epic story spanning generations, and the last Allende I read I think was Paula, which made me cry publicly on the train. Ripper isn't as emotionally or historically important as either of those books, but is impressive in the way that Allende has managed to take the genre of serial-killer-thriller and write it with her distinct style, complete with glimmers of magic realism and that gentle ethereal-ness that separates her from the herd as an author in general, let alone in the crime genre.

Allende is a story-teller, and I mean that in a way that transcends normal authors. When she tells a story, the reader is conscious that something delicate is being unfolded in front of them, revealed artfully and playfully. The narrative is aware of its own voice and this adds a whole new dimension to the reading experience. Not many authors can get away with this without sounding ridiculous or overdone. Allende is very much an exception, she's masterful at creating readers who feel complicit in the narrative just by virtue of the style. Sigh. She's bloody brilliant.

Another “how does she DO that?” element of Allende's writing is the characterisation. Each of the characters is gloriously written, which is of course to be expected. The way she creates these characters though is to reveal all manner of details and backstory for each one gradually, so eventually you have a complete character for each, seen through the eyes of the other characters, but also generally. This may sound pretty average, but it's SO EASY TO MESS UP. For example, it's easy for an author to allow cynicism to sneak in. Any character who is shown through the eyes of other characters runs the risk of displaying negative attributes which outweigh the positive. Some authors (I'm looking at you Ben Elton) relish this as showing the humanity in the characters, but seeing their failings makes the reader hate them. In Ripper, I see the various strengths and weaknesses, but I'm still seeing each character as a well rounded person, for most of whom I experience empathy, because they have been so beautifully and honestly portrayed. I can only put this down to Allende herself being a truly empathetic writer, and therefore being able to show humanity as something that is flawed but also capable of extraordinary acts. I can't actually explain why this seems so impressive, but it is.

The actual is pretty good, obviously the strength of it is in the coming together of the characters and how they grow and interact. That said, I got a nasty head cold towards the end of the book, and thanks to Allende's relentless foreshadowing and my extreme attachment to the characters, I had to stop reading it for a bit until I felt emotionally prepared to reach the end!

Who is this book for?

Fans of Allende, but also if you want to try a different take on crime fiction, give this a crack! It's worth it!

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I cannot stress enough what a fabulous author Isabel Allende is. If you haven't read anything else of hers, FOR GODSAKE READ IT NOW.

In short

Title: Ripper
Author: Isabel Allende
Publisher: Harper
ISBN: 0062291408
Year published: 2014
Pages: 496
Genre(s): Crime fiction, Contemporary literature
Review Type: