BOOK REVIEW | Hollow Heart by Viola Di Grado

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3.5/5 stars

From the publisher:
In this courageous, inventive, and intelligent novel, Viola di Grado tells the story of a suicide and what follows. She has given voice to an astonishing vision of life after life, portraying the awful longing and sense of loss that plague the dead, together with the solitude provoked by the impossibility of communicating. The afterlife itself is seen as a dark, seething place where one is preyed upon by the cruel and unrelenting elements. Hollow Heart will frighten as it provokes, enlighten as it causes concern. If ever there were a novel that follows Kafka’s prescription for a book to be a frozen axe for the sea within us, it is Hollow Heart.

My thoughts:
Di Grado’s imaginative second novel, Hollow Heart, opens with a punch to the gut:

In 2011 the world ended: I killed myself.

It’s immediately evident that this is not going to be your average ghost story. Our narrator, Dorotea, navigates the living world from the perspective of the afterworld. She visits people and places she knew while living, all the while returning daily to her corpse to fascinate in its decomposition. As a side note – this a book not for the faint of heart – graphic depictions of the decomposition of a human body are present throughout. I, of course, reveled in its casual discussion of gore.

For a book about death, this is surprisingly refreshing. It’s creative and introspective, and reads almost autobiographically. Dorotea has experiences and thoughts that will be relatable to many women in their 20’s (such as an obsession with skinny bodies). We learn that Dorotea’s mother suffered from depression, that her father was not present in her life, and that suicide is no stranger to her family; Dorotea works through her struggles from the other side, and does a bit of haunting while she’s at it.

Dorotea discusses the suicide attempt of Sinéad O’Connor, and untimely deaths of other celebrities such as Whitney Houston and Amy Winehouse, with a fascination that was both fun to read but occasionally jarring. I’d be wrapped up in some lovely prose or dialogue, when suddenly there would be 2 pages or so on a celebrity’s death.

Sinéad had tried to kill herself but hadn’t succeeded. I had. Between her and me, who had won, and who had lost?

This book was not perfect for me – it felt repetitive at times (and this is a very short book), and dragged a little in the middle. The first and final seconds are beautifully written, however, and I was fascinated with Dorothea’s growth in the afterlife. A unique read that will resonate with those who are living with depression.

BOOK REVIEW | Arrowood by Laura McHugh

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4/5 stars

From the publisher:
Arrowood is the most ornate and grand of the historical houses that line the Mississippi River in southern Iowa. But the house has a mystery it has never revealed: It’s where Arden Arrowood’s younger twin sisters vanished on her watch twenty years ago—never to be seen again. After the twins’ disappearance, Arden’s parents divorced and the Arrowoods left the big house that had been in their family for generations. And Arden’s own life has fallen apart: She can’t finish her master’s thesis, and a misguided love affair has ended badly. She has held on to the hope that her sisters are still alive, and it seems she can’t move forward until she finds them. When her father dies and she inherits Arrowood, Arden returns to her childhood home determined to discover what really happened to her sisters that traumatic summer.

Arden’s return to the town of Keokuk—and the now infamous house that bears her name—is greeted with curiosity. But she is welcomed back by her old neighbor and first love, Ben Ferris, whose family, she slowly learns, knows more about the Arrowoods’ secrets and their small, closed community than she ever realized. With the help of a young amateur investigator, Arden tracks down the man who was the prime suspect in the kidnapping. But the house and the surrounding town hold their secrets close—and the truth, when Arden finds it, is more devastating than she ever could have imagined.

My thoughts:
Arrowood is a classic mystery. We follow Arden as she works to discover the truth behind her sister’s disappearance many years ago. As the sole witness to the crime, and the person who turned her back on the little girls for a moment too long, she is seeking both peace and forgiveness for herself.

There is something soothing about Laura McHugh’s writing that really works for me. Her prose is simple, with no fancy tricks, but somehow so compelling. Much like the Weight of Blood, Arrowood is an engaging mystery that isn’t meant to shock you with extreme twists or acts of violence. Arrowood reads smoothly with consistently building tension, and the startling truth behind the crime is terrible, sad, and maddening.

I was almost nervous to read this book because I loved the Weight of Blood so much! McHugh delivered again, and I am eagerly awaiting her next release.