The French novel The Stone Boy is a curiously strange tale of
psychological suspense. The premise involves an elderly woman, Madame
Préau who, after a long period of convalescence, comes home to a changed
neighborhood. She is pretty much alone except for a housekeeper and a
son who visits her periodically and seems to be distant and untrusting.
Her closest neighbor is a family with apparently three children. One of
the children, an older boy, is always seen separately from the others
and, to Madame Preau's eyes, appears to be neglected and bruised. But
the agency that investigates child abuse tells her that no child exists.
Of course, being a novel of psychological suspense, nothing may
be as it appears. The author begins her novel with a vague but
important back story and we know little about our protagonist at the
beginning except she is probably mentally unstable, maybe dangerously
so, and not all that likable. Loubiere has a talent for giving you only
what information you need at the time, an essential attribute for this
type of story. This novel did not grab me at first but as I read it but I
was soon unable to put it down. When I did put it down, I found myself
thinking about as if I was putting together a puzzle. What does this
mean? What is the reality and what is in her head? The ending, which I
will not reveal of course, was worth it and, I must confess, made me
slightly teary-eyes. But was it a good teary-eyed or a sad teary-eyed?
You'll have to read the book to find out.
novels, especially those that involve a person of questionable mental
stability, are hard to come by. The most common problem is that often
authors do not know how to made a mentally ill protagonist
full-dimensional without falling into stereotypes. That is not a problem
here. Madame Preau is quite real with little stereotyping and endowed
with a clear and believable pattern of decompensation. In fact, I would
say it is the prime reason this novel works. The novel is moved along by
third person narrative and enhanced by letters and notes by Madame
Preau that lets us know more about her and the workings of her mind as
the story progresses.
The only weakness in the novel is an
occasional feeling of awkwardness and stiffness in the narration,
especially at the beginning. It's one of those things I can feel but not
necessarily put my finger on. I am inclined to think that may be a
problem with the translation rather than the author. But it quickly goes
away as we delve deeper into the mystery.
Overall, this is one of
the better psychological thrillers I have read in a while and well
deserving of more attention in the English-speaking world.At the time of this writing, The Stone Boy appears to be only available as a Kindle eBook from the Hatchette Book Group.