Sunday, July 26, 2020

The Choice - Gillian McAllister

The whole premise of Gillian McAllister’s The Choice is a clever one – and the book has caught the attention of prominent book-related publications such as the New York Times Book Review – so I expected big things when I picked it up. But that’s not really what happened.

 

The plot, admittedly, really is clever. In her panic, a young woman mistakenly pushes what she assumes to be a male accoster running her down from behind the instant he makes contact with her. The man, largely carried by his own momentum, takes a header down seven steps, and the woman hardly has time to take another breath before she is looking down at an unconscious man, a man who now hardly seems to be breathing. So now what does she do? “The choice” is hers and hers alone to make.

 

Does she simply turn and run, assuming that since it’s near midnight and no one is around, she can just go home and pretend none of this happened? Or does she dial 999 (this is London), confess what she’s done, and get the man the medical attention he seems so desperately to need? This is where McAllister makes a good decision. Rather than limit Joanna, the narrator, to a simple binary choice, the author allows her to make and experience both of them. For the rest of The Choice, via alternating chapters that are synced to the same chronological progress of time, the reader follows along as one Joanna calls 999 for help and the “other” Joanna runs away and tries to blend back in with her ordinary life.

 

Gillian McAllister
Interestingly, as the months pass ever so slowly for the two Joannas, they suffer in very similar – and very different - ways, but they both suffer. The most unexpected consequences of Joanna’s decision, either way, are how those closest to her are affected. The lives of her best friend, her husband, her brother, and her boss are all very differently lived out depending on which way Joanna goes with calling or not calling for help.

 

Bottom Line: The Choice is based on an interesting premise, but the slow pacing of the novel and its limited action make for a bit of a disappointment to those hoping for, and expecting, more from the story. Joanna is not a particularly appealing character in the first place, and her prig of a husband is irritating in both versions of himself. Not unexpectedly, the victim turns out to be one of the only truly sympathetic characters in the novel, and I can’t help but wonder how much more interesting it may have been if he had turned out to be less of an innocent than he is portrayed as here. The Choice is not at all a bad book, but it’s nothing really special either.

8 comments:

  1. Well that sounded like a terrific plot, what a shame it didn't quite live up to your expectations. I always think it's such a shame when a potentially excellent book turns out a bit average. But I must admit that this happens with quite a few books, sadly.

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    1. Despite the premise, it was all pretty predictable. IMO, would have been way more interesting if the victim had turned out to be less of a nice guy than she portrayed him to be. That would have thrown a whole other order of morality into the equation.

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  2. That's too bad because it is an interesting premise. Although I'm not sure I buy into her being so reluctant to call for help when it sounds like the whole thing was an accident.

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    1. She was afraid that she would be held accountable even if she could prove it was an accident. British law, I learned from reading this one, treats this kind of thing a little differently than American law treats it (very slight differences).

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  3. Not familiar with this one Sam, but sorry it was just so so.

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    1. It got a bit of hype from the national press that made it sound like more of a sure thing, than not. That probably set my expectations too high.

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  4. Thanks for your thoughts on this one. I think I'm going to give it a miss.

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    1. It didn't work for me, Cathy, and I was happy to finish it. Other than maybe making the victim more of a real person, and not a young saint, there was at least one other point that the author could have made the plot more intriguing, but opted for the safe way out.

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