A Writer's Journey

December 12, 2016

Book Analysis: “Lost Among the Living” by Simone St. James

Filed under: journey,writing — mackenziew @ 12:00 am
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This was my first book in my new book club. I managed to read it in a month. As I said, the gifts were a great encouragement but the story was really good as well. So I was glued to it and wanted to read more and more.

Now, I’m going to do a book analysis on it!

Once again, this is an analysis, not a review. I will be looking at St. James’ writing style and her choices. So there will be SPOILERS!

You have been warned.

First, let’s start with a bit of a summary: Joanna Manders exists in a strange in between—her husband never returned home from World War I but has not been listed as dead. With her mother in an asylum, Jo has been working for her husband’s aunt, Dottie Forsyth, as she traveled the continent. But now they’ve come home to England so Dottie could marry off her injured son, Martin.

However going home also means that Jo learns about Dottie’s daughter, Frances, who supposedly committed suicide. When Jo starts seeing Frances, she isn’t sure if she’s going mad or not. But she is convinced of one thing: Frances was murdered and she is going to find out who did it.

Okay, that’s out of the way. Now to start the analysis proper.

The story is told in the first person and it works for the narrative. One of the main themes is Jo’s possible madness, so the fact we see things from her perspective adds to this. Is she really seeing Frances’ ghost? Or is she suffering from something like her own mother? Is what she sees real or a figment of her imagination?

Can Jo be trusted as a narrator?

It’s a question St. James does answer—Jo can be trusted. Everything appears to really be happening as others start to notice it as well. A maid noticed water pouring from her camera. Robert saw Princer. Frances sets Princer on Robert. There is confirmation that Dottie could feel her daughter’s presence.

Jo is not crazy.

I feel first person narrators are very good for mysteries. The reader learns the same information as the narrator at the same time. It prevents the author from revealing too much at once. Trust me when I say I know how tempting that can be. You just want to give it all at once or when people ask, in the case of fanfiction posted chapter by chapter.

There are two mysteries that ended up needing to be solved. Of course, the first is to find out what really happened to Frances—did she jump or was she pushed? The second is the one surrounding Jo’s husband, Alex. He disappeared on a mission. Was he dead? If so, why didn’t the War Office issue a death certificate?

And then there was a major twist. Alex lived!

It turned out he was operating as a British spy in Germany and had been staying in the country gathering intel even after the war was over. He had been groomed for the job even before he married Jo.

St. James actually set this up pretty well, dropping hints throughout the narrative as she showed us Jo’s past with her husband. That he had family in Germany he chose to live with during his teenage years and that he had secret business with Jo’s previous employer. He also had leaves he didn’t spend with Jo and didn’t tell her about either, such as the one where he visited his family…the same day Frances died.

Naturally, Jo and the reader suspect that maybe Alex had something to do with it.

There’s still a lot of mystery around Alex and I’m not entire sure St. James resolved most of it. And I’m not entirely sure that’s a bad thing. Part of me wants that resolution, wants to know for sure if Alex is a good guy or not. The other part of me realizes that Jo is the narrator and she doesn’t know everything about Alex. At the end, she doesn’t want to know everything. It forces the reader to make their own opinion about Alex—good guy or not?

Personally, I think he’s a good guy but I still have reservations about him. There was still something off about him. And I think that was smart of St. James to do.

I think that’s all for now. Especially as I doubt I’ll ever be a mystery writer, but I’ve learned a little mystery is always good no matter the genre.

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