Book Review: The Breakdown by B.A Paris

I like stories that get straight into the action and this is exactly what this one did. In the opening chapter, B A Paris sets the scene for some kind of disaster to take place. It’s cliché pathetic fallacy, but it’s still a good writer’s technique. She uses lightning, rain and a late night drive to warn us that something bad is going to happen. A woman driving back home to her husband, speeding and trying to get there as quickly as she can. She takes a shortcut, sees another woman in a car that looks like she might be in need of some help, but it’s dark, it’s pelting down with rain and she needs to get home. So she doesn’t get out to help.

Now in all honesty, I know I would feel extremely guilty for not getting out to help. Not at the time I wouldn’t. If I was in my car driving home on a stormy night, there would be nothing that would be getting me out of the car until I was parked on my drive and getting out to go inside my house. But later, upon reflection, I would probably be wondering if there was something I could have done to help. However, the circumstances under which Cass noticed somebody else parked along Blackwater Lane were quite unique. The other car was just parked there with their lights on, but they weren’t doing anything. So you would assume that they were able to help themselves, right? If not, they might use their horn or flash their lights to get your attention. But the other person in the car didn’t do that. So in my opinion, Cass was more than right to continue driving, as there are just some situations where you have to mind your own business.

But if you then hear that a woman was found to be violently murdered in Blackwater Lane at around the same time you drove past a car that was parked there, you would begin to feel haunted. It was very sad to discover that a murder took place that same night, at around the same time Cass drove through that very setting. Even more so when we discover that it was someone Cass actually knew and had spent some time with. That’s pretty haunting, especially if it’s someone you only briefly socialised with. It turns out that Cass and this woman who died, Jane, met for drinks and planned to go for dinner at some point later in time. It was only when Cass’s husband Matthew showed up that she had to go and their drinks got cut short, meaning that they never really got to arrange dinner.

Now I’ve admitted that I would feel some degree of guilt and I think we all would. If there was anything you could have done to help, you would be wondering why you didn’t do it. But it was a dark night, it might not have been safe for Cass to get out of her car and put her own safety in jeopardy just to check that somebody else was okay. So it really troubled me throughout reading this, that Cass put so much blame on herself! She really did put herself in this mess, as I feel that she over-processed all the information and made herself feel more guilt than was necessary.

After arriving safely home that evening, she didn’t mention to her husband that she had driven down Blackwater Lane. I know he told her not to, but come on, you don’t have to do everything your husband says and if he gives you an earache about it just tell him where to stick it! Secondly, talking to someone about that night would have been healthy. It’s healthy to get things off your chest, not bottle them up, which is exactly what led Cass into this whole breakdown in the first place. Besides, the moment you feel like you need to keep something a secret is the moment it actually becomes something bad. If she just told her husband the next morning, he might have convinced her that anyone would have done the same thing and encouraged her not to blame herself.

But her actions from this point onwards almost became unbearable. Calling the police to tell them that she was there, not giving her name or any other information and then quickly hanging up was a literal waste of police time. And then having to listen to her mulling on how guilty she felt at the end of every chapter became agonising, particularly as it began to effect her behaviour. I feel as though books like this one are always based around weak, flimsy characters. Characters who have no sense of identity, no backbone and can never solve problems themselves. Thus they end up being manipulated by characters with stronger personalities, led to believe that they are someone they’re not, until in the end they find a smidgen of strength to reveal the truth to the reader. But there is never really a resolution. I read the final page of this book and actually wondered why it had stopped so abruptly. It felt like B A Paris ended it just a day or two too soon.

I really enjoyed reading this book nevertheless, as sometimes dislikeable characters make for the most enjoyable reads. I didn’t necessarily dislike Cass, but she did get on my nerves at some points. I suppose I’m always hoping for a strong independent woman to take control, someone like Amy in Gone Girl who would never have let herself get manipulated like the characters of B A Paris or Paula Hawkins.

What I will say, is that the final twist in this one was completely unexpected. As soon as you get to the text messages, you’re thinking oh my god, I need to finish this! Which is exactly what I did, I read the last 100 pages in about half an hour after struggling to make it through the middle sections of a book. I can only take so much whining from a character, particularly if I am led to believe that they are in denial about having early onset dementia. It got to the point where I just wanted to tell Cass to shut up and take her pills. And I actually wished that her husband Matthew would walk out and leave her!

This is how well B A Paris constructed this whole web of connected stories. That I believed Cass was forgetting the simplest of things, like how to use the microwave and signing onto an agreement for an alarm system she didn’t even want. In retrospect, I felt the same frustration that Cass felt. I didn’t want to believe that she had dementia, but all of the signs (both hereditary and mental) were there, so I didn’t know what else to believe. And this is great writing really, because it meant that the twist had the shocking effect it was meant to. As I never suspected that Jane’s killer was who they were in the end and I never could have guessed the plot line myself.

Usually in my reviews I go into some detail about the exacts of what happened, but I can’t do that with this one as the plot twist is just too juicy to reveal. If you’re looking for a read that, like Behind Closed Doors, leaves you with a memorable ending, then I must recommend this too. It seems as though B A Paris is one of those authors who likes to really drill in the boring everyday motions of her character’s lives. She’ll go into detail about the fact that they go downstairs and make breakfast and go upstairs to shower and she will repeat the same thoughts to us chapter after chapter once we get to the middle of the book. But she has some killer openings that compel you to find out what really happened and by the time you do, her very impressive endings really do not disappoint.

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