How does an author come up with an idea like this?
I don’t mean any disrespect to Amy Engel. This is a legitimate question I am asking. How does an author come up with a concept for a novel that is so deeply disturbing, strange and sinister? I don’t know where this sort of plot could possibly spring from – it must be from a mind much more creative, or perhaps haunted, than mine. It would really make a good basis for the next season of American Horror Story or something!
The Roanoke Girls is a controversial novel…that much is probably an understatement. As many other reviewers have mentioned, it’s virtually impossible to say anything about the plot without giving it away. I’ve also seen reviewers mention that it is best to go into The Roanoke Girls knowing as little as possible about it, and I have to agree with that. The plot is so twisted and unsettling that I feel the right kind of reader will enjoy reading it with that minor description alone, without looking up a synopsis prior. And any sort of real synopsis would have to contain major spoilers anyway.
That being said, The Roanoke Girls is absolutely not the sort of novel that every reader should dive into, and even readers of primarily mysteries or thrillers should give it serious consideration before picking it up. Although it is compulsively and addictively written, it also deals with subject matter that can be extremely upsetting at times, such as sexual abuse, sexual manipulation and child abuse, to name a few. Other reviewers have listed the exact triggers far more thoroughly and accurately than I ever could, and I would encourage any reader who is thinking of picking up The Roanoke Girls to read one or two spoiler free reviews before doing so to be sure that it is the right novel for them. For many it isn’t, and I can certainly understand why!
Having said all of this, and considering that I did find the relationships in The Roanoke Girls to be very dysfunctional and in some cases disgusting, I did actually enjoy reading the novel. I think this is largely down to how it is written: Engel creates a narrator in Lane Roanoke who is at once hardened and emotional, world-weary and trusting. Lane was definitely my favourite part of the novel because, although she is very damaged in many ways, she is also unfailingly loyal and loving in a lot of surprising ways too. She is also fearless without denying her fears, brave without keeping her eyes closed to the injustices and inhumanities of the world, and her quick wit, sharp comebacks and sarcasm really endeared me to her. She surely isn’t a perfect character, or even a perfect and unbiased narrator for that matter, but she is interesting and complex, and I appreciated that as a reader. There was a lot to unpack in all of the characters, but particularly in Lane who I believe hides so much turmoil and angst amidst her narration.
For whatever reason, I couldn’t put The Roanoke Girls down, even in the moments when it disturbed me, and I found that I blazed through it when I sat down to read. Despite that, though, one major criticism I have with it is the pacing. While Lane is a great narrator and the story itself is addictive in that the reader wants to get to the bottom of the puzzle and mystery that is the Roanoke family, a lot of the family’s secrets are revealed at the very start of the novel, and then nothing much happens, no situations change and no new details are revealed, until much later in the story. It felt, to me, like there was some dead/dry space in the middle of the story, when Lane is waiting for her cousin Allegra to be found. Although the flashing back between past and present helped some, I still got the sense, after plowing through around 70 pages in the middle of the novel in one sitting, that nothing much had happened and that the story wasn’t moving forward at all and had pretty much stayed put. At the same time though, like I mentioned, I couldn’t stop reading…so this is a paradox I haven’t yet figured out.
To summarize this rambly review: The Roanoke Girls was fascinating – that’s probably the best word I can use to describe it. It will turn your stomach at times, you’ll want to put it down or throw it against a wall, but it is guaranteed to get a reaction from you, whatever it may be. I’m glad I read it and found out what all the hype was about, but I don’t know that I would rush out to read another novel just like it anytime soon (or ever).
❥❥❥ (out of 5)
Girl with a Green Heart