Domestic Noir, unreliable narrators and ladies behaving in a non-socially approved manner is a Thing at the moment – and it is exposing some very interesting writing. The new novel by Jessica Knoll, Luckiest Girl Alive is similar to Gone Girl and The Woman on the Train, also features an unpleasant female front and centre. It is isn’t a crime novel in the sense the other two are, but it is about crime and the human wreckage criminal behaviour leaves in its wake. It is also really well written and carefully plotted, and I found it gave me a lot to think about.
Ani FaNelli is a real piece of work, an acid, manipulative, ruthless person. It is clear from the beginning that this is a choice that she has made, she has her eye on the prize – marriage to the scion of a wealthy family – and has remade herself to that end.
Ani agrees to have her wedding filmed in exchange for taking part in a documentary about an incident she was part of in her high school years. As the questions start and her carefully controlled memories start to have a life of their own, her control over herself and her life starts to crumble. As we learn more about what took place at the posh school clever-but-poor Ani went to, the sinister cocktail of teenage risk taking, alcohol, mob behaviour, money and gender makes Ani’s awfulness a lot more understandable and you end up respecting her ability to move through the world. She made me think of Hans Christian Andersen’s Little Mermaid, each step she takes feeling like walking on knives and unable ever to speak. The silence and the knives twist her even more, even though she has made her bargains and her choices, she has lost control of herself.
The book is funny and shocking, Ani is a fantastically real character, dislikeable but vital, and I very much liked the fact that although you end up cheering her on, breathless at her bravery, she is not somehow converted to an anodyne ‘nice’ Ani, she is still a touch acid.
It poses and explores some very interesting questions about girls and boys, the women and men they become, and how they treat each other, and what part the societies we have created have to play in that process. Apart from those underlying themes, it is a great read, exciting and surprising, I had to read it all in one go. I see that Reese Witherspoon’s company has got the movie rights – fantastic! Can’t wait for that, or Knoll’s next novel.
The title is very clever, Ani may be the luckiest girl alive, but there is good luck and there is bad, and it isn’t always clear in life which is which.