Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Mapping the Edge by Sarah Dunant

Reviewed by Arlene Walsh

“While others were burning comet paths through the skies with their energy and ambition, I was standing underneath brushing their sparks from my clothing, afraid even to look up in case I got their fire in my eyes. In recent years, though I have found myself passing an increasing amount of debris from the burnout of faster, more colorful lives. Negative equities, second wives or husbands, the beginnings of double chins…”

Dunant gets the action going four pages into the book with the quietly intriguing Estella, best friend to main character Anna. It’s Friday night and Estella is anticipating her solitary vodka binge, a routine indulgence at the end of a work week. A brief phone call curtails that alcoholic pleasure and sets the characters and reader on their way. Anna, it appears, is missing.


Midway through Sarah Dunant’s Mapping the Edge, my brain conjured up images of the 1960s film, The Collector, starring a memorably creepy Terence Stamp, who collects both butterflies and women. But Dunant’s story is not simple, nor singular in topic and the journey taken by single mom, Anna along with the reader, is the real heart of the story; the destination, while satisfying, is secondary.

There is a mystery here, an unconventional family of well-developed individuals, an interesting format and a delicate balance of action. There is a lyrical, almost melodious tone to the language, expressive and often poetic. Dunant’s linguistic control is to be admired.

As events unfold in a well-paced, perfectly pitched manner, we find that Anna may not be missing at all. Anna may just be feeling her oats after six years of playing mommy, a role she affirms again and again that she loves. But after hearing that Anna seems to be missing, Estella leaves her Amsterdam
apartment for London to join Paul, best male friend to Anna who is taking care of Lily, Anna’s daughter. Together, they pull apart and piece together the little information they have: Anna took an impromptu trip to Italy with Paul’s knowledge; she missed her return flight—she had called with that fact; and she had been answering dating ads, an uncharacteristic move.

While Paul, Estella and Lily pass the days waiting, planning, talking with police, the reader travels with Anna and herein lies the spice. Anna is involved in two male-centered adventures. One follows the other but we’re given the details simultaneously. This is tricky and takes a bit getting use to but it is a successful device that enhances the events. Also, the males, Samuel and Andreas, are colorful and add lots of juice to this tale.

Initially, the parts in which I observed Anna and Andreas, were especially absorbing given the circumstances of how they are together, but eventually it became tedious; a repetitive scenario that grew annoying. Dunant’s usual beautiful descriptive powers were not showcased here or lost their strengths. I couldn’t visualize where Anna was much of the time and found myself wandering away from her and the story. That was short-lived. Dunant is a strong writer and reined me back in with little effort.

This is a rich, in-depth story of temptation, extremism, desire, selfishness and deception, wrapped in a loose mystery. I found it strongly entertaining and engrossing and recommend it, especially for the delightful language. Sarah Dunant is described as a British suspense novelist with at least five other books to her credit.

Rating: 7.5/10

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