Ani FaNelli appears to have the perfect life – a glamourous job at a glossy magazine, a gorgeous figure, and a handsome blue blood fiance. But beneath the facade are scars that she has worked for years to keep hidden, and a team of documentary filmmakers may very well bring the truth to light.
When I began Luckiest Girl Alive, I thought it was going to be just like Gone Girl. Ani reminded me of Gone Girl’s Amy in many ways — beautiful, cold and calculating. And right on the very first page, Ani is contemplating slipping a knife blade into her fiance’s stomach. So I figured, it was like Gone Girl, but we know the woman is a psychopath from the beginning.
Fortunately I was wrong. Luckiest Girl Alive wasn’t the straightforward psychological thriller I was expecting, and it was a much better book because of that. Knoll takes great pains to make Ani seem like a coldhearted bitch, but slowly peels back the layers of her past to reveal a very vulnerable young woman. There are a couple of big reveals about her past, and we realize why doing the documentary is so important to her. I found the flashback scenes powerful, and I was impressed with the contrast between Ani at fourteen and the much more guarded, faux confident Ani in the present day.
As a whole, the novel doesn’t quite come together completely. Perhaps it’s partly because her supposedly “perfect” adult life never really feels perfect. As well, Ani the adult just doesn’t quite add up — she seems more a wannabe rich bitch than an actual one, yet doesn’t quite show the vulnerability that could make the wannabe aspect work. Ani as a teenager felt more real, and I’m wondering if the personality shift could have been better integrated.
I also wish we knew more about Ani’s fiance. As it was, I didn’t quite understand why doing the documentary was such a big deal. And later on, I was mostly confused about his responses to various situations. At times, it felt like he was there more as a prop for the plot than an actual character.
The ending as well seemed really sudden. Elements of it made sense, but the shift to get to that point seemed to happen really quickly, and there was a minor tidbit that was left hanging for some reason. Perhaps the author felt she didn’t have to explain how that tidbit turned out, but it felt like such an important part of the story that I wish it had been closed off more neatly.
Overall though, the segments about Ani’s past really made the book for me. These raised some powerful, timely and highly relevant issues, and I thought the author did a great job in presenting teenage Ani as a complex, multi-layered character. At one point, remembering a particularly traumatic moment, Ani confesses to some really dark thoughts, and to me, that bit of darkness is far more interesting than the bitchy facade the author uses to make her character seem evil and unlikeable. These are the most powerful moments of the book, and the ones that make the slow start very much worth it.
Thank you to Simon and Schuster Canada for an advanced reading copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
RESPONSE TO QUESTIONS ABOUT THE ENDING
EDIT NOVEMBER 21, 2015
Since posting this review, I’ve received quite a number of questions about the ending, and I now really wish I hadn’t given my copy away because I’m now wondering if I’d missed things in my original reading.
Short response: I’m afraid I don’t remember anymore. I’d read it so long ago, and I no longer have a copy to refresh my memory.
So for anyone asking about the ending, here’s the reply I sent to one of the earlier emails I received, and please note that my interpretation of the seashell is by no means at all confirmed as accurate:
I agree on the big reveal (that Ani’s conversation with Dean was miked up to catch his confession), mostly because I didn’t think it was as much of a surprise as the build up led us to believe. That being said, I like that Ani finally got the confession she deserved all those years ago, and having it recorded puts the power back in her hands.I thought the story as a whole could’ve held together better. What I like the most is that I thought it was one kind of story at the beginning (Gone Girl), but it was really about a young girl’s trauma. So in that sense, the conversation being miked and going public is a fitting happy ending. Personally, I thought the whole Gone Girl angle/fiancé subplot felt unnecessary – it would have been more powerful (and IMHO less confusing) if the author had stuck to the high school trauma story. Even the shooting part wasn’t really necessary – like the author tried to put so many reveals into one story.Re seashell: It’s been a while since I’ve read it, but I don’t remember the seashell playing a significant role necessarily, other than as a souvenir of the day with Arthur. I thought it was mostly part and parcel with the photo, and so both kinda meant a lot to her and her memory of Arthur, so her fiancé (can’t remember his name) being so casual about it just shows how little he really knows her.
Hope this helps, and if anyone has alternative explanations of the seashell or the ending, feel free to write in the comments!