Review: Carthage by Joyce Carol Oates

JCO Carthage.jpgIt was only a matter of time before I read Joyce Carol Oates. Statistically the chances were always high; she’s one of the most prolific authors writing today. But when I started working beside a JCO aficionado, the odds improved dramatically. And so, here we are, one JCO book down, only, like, another hundred to go. Game on.

Carthage is my first for no other reason than I spotted it second hand, I had the five bucks in my pocket, and the words from the Financial Times review emblazoned on its cover were encouraging. “A suspense-filled thriller,” it reads; and you know me, I live for suspense, and I love a good thriller. Paid for, walking out, book in hand, I turned it over. The Guardian‘s review slapped the FT’s down: “Not just the suspense thriller it had seemed at first sight,” it reads. Imagine a dramatic piano key change as my thoughts screamed, “Oh no, but I live for suspense, and I love a good thriller! What have I done?!”

What I’d done, it turns out, was select a gem of novel that harbours the foundations of a straightforward missing persons mystery, but rather than focus on the mechanics of the investigation — in fact, it’s barely touched upon — it thrusts the members of the missing teenager’s family, and the Iraq veteran accused of her murder, into the spotlight, exposing their lives before, during and after the disappearance, the narrative twisting through time like the double helix of a DNA strand.

Carthage tackles some very heavy themes; the horror of war and its long-lasting impact; the legitimacy of incarceration and the morality of the death penalty, and life on death row. It explores grief, faith, the audacity of hope. It is a grand novel about family anguish. It is unflinching, tender and heartbreaking, and Oates’ prose reads like a dream. At long last, I am on the JCO bandwagon, desperate to read more, and decide where Carthage sits amongst her substantial body of work.

ISBN: 9780007485758 
Format: Paperback / softback
Pages: 400
Imprint: Fourth Estate Ltd
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publish Date: 20-Oct-2014
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

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