Friday, August 5, 2011

Review: The Opposite Of Amber by Gillian Philip

The Opposite Of Amber by Gillian Philip

Pages: 320

Publisher: Bloomsbury
Published: April 4th, 2011
IBSN: 9780747599920

'They found the fifth girl right after the snow melted...'

Ruby and her older sister Jinn live together on their own, just about making ends meet. Jinn is beautiful, with glittering blonde hair, and makes it her business to look after Ruby. They are horrified by, but try to ignore, the local newspaper stories of prostitutes who are murdered, their bodies eventually discovered underwater. Then the no-good Nathan Baird turns up on the scene - again - and Jinn starts to change. First Nathan moves in with Jinn and Ruby, making Ruby feel an outsider, and then Jinn and Nathan move out, leaving Ruby alone. Jinn no longer has time to look after Ruby. And it seems to Ruby that Jinn herself needs looking after. Her beautiful glittering hair starts to lose its shine.

And then Jinn disappears.

This book begins with what I later find out to be a regular interlude - Counting Games, it's called - where the main focus is on the serial killer and the found victims. The first three pages did an amazing job of mysteriously yet descriptively setting the chilling tone and the scene from an omniscient perspective. I was impressed to the point of shoving the book at anyone who had the patience to humour me and read the first three pages.

I was hooked from the very start, and stayed hooked except for a few bumps along the way at colloquial Scottish phrases (I know a few Scottish people and am pretty okay with their slang most of the time. It might be a bit much at times for people who aren't familiar with it, though). It wasn't packed with action or drama but the foreshadowing tone completely ensnared me and had me feeling like at any moment something was about to tip the characters' worlds on their heads.

The writing style was amazing. I found myself at times just admiring the way the words were strung together and not taking in what they meant (but I was more than happy to reread).The way the author weaved in figurative language and recurring symbols and metaphors was superb. See the quotes I've collected below for what I mean, because my inferior writing can't do it justice.

I really liked Ruby. The book comes from her first-person perspective after the first chapter. She doesn't waste words -- to the extent where several characters remark "It talks!" when she speaks -- and is devoted to her sister, Jinn. She has flaws to add a realness and third dimension to her personality. She's stubborn, jealous, 'gauche' (in her own words). She had the feel of a real person, and even as she gets into problems that she causes herself, she's easy to feel sympathetic for her.

The Opposite Of Amber was more character-driven than plot-driven, highlighting relationship dynamics and character development. A lot of the book focuses on the relationship between Ruby and Jinn - strong initially, slowly but surely weakening as Nathan's presence plays catalyst. All of the characters were thoroughly fleshed out, to the point where you can understand and feel for characters like Nathan who you're predisposed to dislike.

Although that isn't to say that the plot wasn't compelling. It was. Suspense that the opening chapter created held and grew until the tension at the climax had my hands shaking as I hastily turned the page. The build-up was superbly written and the wind-down settled the suspense and gave hope that Ruby would get her life back on track.

The Opposite Of Amber was an emotional, chilling, and quietly intense story of the bonds between sisters and how they break.

I give The Opposite Of Amber a 6 out of 5. A new favourite of mine.

Have some of my favourite quotes from this to go:

"And to keep it right, to make it the same, he put her in the water too. Not the same water, that's true; but it's a good idea, if you don't want to leave traces, to put a girl in water. It's the opposite of amber."
 (I'm sad that I read this after my post about great titles. The Opposite of Amber is a great one.)
"Her blonde hair was full of ice and it glittered when they pulled her out into the sun; and quite honestly, the man who found her looked so pale and drained and shocked to stillness, she looked almost better than he did."