Joint Review: The Stranger by Harlan Coben

strangerPegasus: Here’s the predicament: How far would you go for love? How far are you capable of going? I bet if you asked 1000 people, you’d get 1000 unique responses. Love is one of those emotions that has no universal meaning, and yet everyone knows it when they are hit with it. We all have different ways of expressing it, and we all have different depths to which we’ll go in order to keep it, or at least a resemblance of it. This is the central theme that Harlan Coben explores in his new thriller, The Stranger.

Urania: Seriously, Pegasus? That’s what you got from this thriller? Here I thought it was about “How long does it take you to realise you’re completely selfish and surrounded by the same type of selfishness of all those around you”….oh wait…no…….maybe it’s, “You never really appreciate something until it’s gone”? Yep…that sums it up for me….I just can’t decide which one is the best summary of this novel….

Pegasus: I see what you mean in regards to Adam and Corrine, but my point really applies to the secondary characters that got blackmailed.  Love, naivete and stupidity, all mean the same thing when it comes to those two;  they have this fucked up relationship in which none of them know how to express what they feel, and indeed realise what they are feeling.

Pegasus: I read this in 24 hours – it is a very quick and easy read, which is more or less what you tend to expect from a thriller, and in that respect, I enjoyed this book. However, I had issues with some of the characters. First off, the main character that the plot focuses on is Corrine. What happened to her, did she do what she is being accused of, and why did she do certain things. The answers to these questions were the epicenter of the plot, and yet Coben did a poor job in really fleshing out Corrine’s character. There was no emotion there, no real understanding, just a basic outline of a mum obsessed with her son’s school sports. I think this book would have really benefited from some flashback scenes. Enough to show us possible motive and the chance for the reader to actually give a shit about what happens to her. The same can be said for Adam. Coben portrays him as this alpha male type character that won’t let anything or anyone harm his family, but that is all we get. Again, this is where some flashbacks would have really helped in order to show his vulnerability and indeed a 3D portrait of his character.

Urania: Well at least on this we agree. However (don’t you just love it when I say, “however”….can you just see me rolling me eyes as I say it?) I think the way Coben portrayed the characters just validates exactly how I felt about this novel. The only question I have it was it intentional? We get to see both the husband and the wife take each other for granted. We get to see them both act in ways that does not make their partners feel valid or cherished. Corrine is portrayed as a somewhat controlling, unfeeling person by her husband from the start. However, as the novel goes on, her husband starts to appreciate her more. We see glimpses then, and only then, of how he has taken her for granted and suddenly he is missing her and appreciating all she means to him and his children. We see how she has tried to be fair to many of those around her…when at first, we were led to believe that she was totally self-centered and ignored anyone’s else’s needs or wants.

Pegasus:  I think Coben was playing on the whole unreliable narrator made most famous in Gone Girl.  However, (see, I can use that word too!) he failed.  He failed big time.  To have a successful unreliable narrator, you need decent characters. and these ones were simply not given the consideration they needed.

Urania:  This outlying theme of selfishness and lack of appreciation can be said of every single character in this novel if you look at them all as a whole. Every single problem/crime/relationship conflict can all be tied to these two things…0000000

But hey ho….isn’t that the way it is in the real world as well?

Pegasus: I will give credit where credit is due though: The plot outline was good and had it had the benefit of another 100 pages or so, I believe it could have been a very juicy and emotional story. Also, Coben did pose some questions for us to ponder: What does love mean? How do we define it? What lengths will we go to protect it? What does it mean to be “living the dream”? What is perfection? As he made me think, I will give Coben credit, as many thriller writers don’t achieve that.

Urania: I never realised you were such a romantic, Pegasus….Credit is giving by me to Coben for just enforcing my belief that most people are only looking out for #1….just saying….

Pegasus:  But doesn’t that go hand in hand?  We think we love someone, but really, are just looking out for numero uno. What one may see as love, another may see as pure selfishness.

Urania: Oh dear…oh dear me…I can’t believe I’m going to say this…but here goes…I’m getting up there in age…and a few years ago I would have 100% agreed with your statement, Pegasus…but now? Not at all…call me foolish, but there isn’t any of that looking out for myself any longer…I come second….of course it’s a joint second and I’m tied with him…but numero uno? That’s *us*….100%….

Pegasus: I’ve said this in a previous review of Missing You, also by Harlen Coben, that the author has picked apart at this massive theme, and yet only scratched the service. It left me, in my opinion, feeling like I’ve just eaten a good meal, but the final taste just didn’t come together as I’d hope it would do.

Urania: yea yea yea…whatever….you didn’t really think I was going to give you the last word did you?

Pegasus: (-:

Until next time…

Pegasus and Urania

ARC provided by Netgalley for an honest review

Buy it now The Stranger by Harlan Coben

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