The Woman in the Fifth Mass Market Paperback – Dec 12 2011
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“Kennedy is a fantastic, feisty writer.”
–Independent on Sunday
“Kennedy knows how to keep the pages turning.”
From the Trade Paperback edition.
About the Author
Douglas Kennedy’s novels have all been highly praised bestsellers. His work has been translated into sixteen languages.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
Buy it and read it ...you will never regret it BUT don't be tempted to go and see the film..absolutely dreadful...don't know if Mr. Kennedy had anything to do with it but , hope not, but, even so, I would forgive him anything for this book! a 'five starer' all the way
Good introduction to an author that was unknown to me!
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Harry Ricks has hit rock bottom...or so we're led to believe until he tumbles further into the abyss. The man has fled the U.S. because of a failed marriage and a scandal at the college where he taught film studies. Harry's life is in ruins and now he is down and out living in Paris; little money, has now contracted a serious flu and doesn't know a soul. One event leads to another, and he ends up living in a very low income sector of Paris, a `chambre de bonne', later is offered a "job" as a nightwatchman, where he sits in a little second story office watching a video screen. He is instructed only to let those individuals through the door that offer a particular phrase. It is obvious that illegal activities are going on below on the first floor, but he is purposefully kept in the dark, it is said, for his own protection. Harry is payed 65 euros every morning after his shift and life carries on this way until he meets a beautiful and mysterious woman at one of Paris's famous "salons".
Magit Kadar is a Hungarian émigré, who had fled Hungary with her mother as a small child. At that time after the Second World War, Hungary was under the dictatorship of a ruthless Stalinist, (also named Kadar) where Margit's father had been lynched in front of her eyes by the secret police. Margit is on the better side of fifty, though appears younger - elegant, intelligent, sophisticated and extremely beautiful. She lives in the Fifth Adrossement in Paris - an understated and tasteful apartment, Margit instructs Harry to meet her there twice a week for only three hours as an intense affair begins.
Suddenly Harry Rick's life turns much more complicated and dangerous as his "enemies" begin to end up murdered one by one. Of course Harry is the prime suspect, but there is no substantial proof, however the circumstances of each crime point to him. Who is committing these murders and in such a horrific manner?
This is a wonderful novel because the narrative is in present time, that is, we follow and feel and sense every action, thought and move of the protagonist.
Original, well written and possesses that `engine', ensuring the reader holds fast to the book from start to finish.
But... the decisions he makes towards the beginning of the book -- which set the plot in motion -- are all unbelievably stupid. To the Kennedy's credit, he realizes this and tries to build justifications for them (the character has no choice, feels nihilistic, is naive, etc.), but they don't really convince. No real person would do the ridiculous things this guy does.
The revelation about the woman took me by surprise. I really didn't know what type of book this was going to be. That was sort-of fun, but also a let-down, because it meant that anything could now happen, there are no rules.
Finally, the last part of the book is a mess. The woman seems to have a personality change. I won't give anything away, but it basically took a cool, smart, interesting character and turned her into a stereotype, and no reason is given for her to act this way.
But as I said, the writing was good. If his other books are better, I'd be happy to give them a try.
And there's good writing, that really takes you on Harry's ride. In a dive he's rented for 3 months, after which he'll be out of money, he disciplines himself to finally write the novel he's always said he would: " 'I'll show the bastards' is a statement uttered by someone who has suffered a setback ... or, more typically, has hit bottom. But as a resident of the latter category, I also knew that, rather than being some EST-style rallying cry, it was a howl from the last-chance saloon."
By happenchance, Harry meets Margit, a woman of beauty, class, and lust. The last buoys Harry immensely. For he's living in the slums, while Margit lives in the Paris Fifth Arrondissement, wealthy middle class, where he used to be. She is the Woman in the Fifth, and there's something really really odd about her. A true mystery woman.
Near the end of the book, we find out what is odd about her and it completely threw me off. I thought this book was a great read until then, and then all I could say was, "Oh for pete's sake." I cannot explain more without giving away too much.
So, in short, the first two-thirds of the book are riveting. The ending was not.
Sucked down the societal drainpipe from a scandal in his American hometown where he had been a dignified professor, Harry Ricks empties into the dregs of the Parisian scene. Is such a sewer place possible? Well in The Woman in the Fifth it is. With only the money he's succored from a bank account where he left at least half to his beloved daughter, Harry rents a gutter-like room in Paris' noir element.
Suffocating in self pity, meaninglessness, and hopelessness, Harry merely tries to pass away his life in bars, salons, and movie theaters, convincing himself he is writing a good salable novel. Realizing his bank account will run out, Harry begins working for a shady man who pays him daily to sit through the night in a second floor "office" to buzz in undesirables into the vault-like room below him. Harry knows something illicit, even punishing, is going on but is afraid to get involved even after he hears horrific agonized shrieks through the floor--so badly does he need money.
At a strange salon, Harry meets and then falls in love with an odd woman who likes his body and sexual prowess, but she can only see him at definite times on certain days of the week in her apartment on the fifth. This lovely but bizarre woman spills out her guts to Harry. She reveals that she lost both her Husband and daughter in an automobile accident years ago. Harry has lost his wife and daughter in a somewhat contrived, unfair scandal.
After patrons leave a bar, a lonely barmaid locks the tavern door and in my mind, she forces Harry to screw her. All the while, this lurid lust-filled woman knows her jealous husband will murder Harry if he learns of their frenzied copulation. Well, of course he finds out! He is on the rampage to knife off Harry's testicles and to slit his throat as well.
But in The Woman in the Fifth, the very opposite occurs. This man is found brutally murdered; so is Harry's sleezy neighbor in the boarding next room next to his; so are people involved in whatever-is-going-on in the room beneath Harry's "office." Harry becomes a chief suspect in ALL the murders. He is questioned, but discloses little damaging information simply because he truly knows little.
At rock bottom, Harry revisits The Woman in the Fifth apartment he had met and confided in at the etheral timeless salon. To his complete chimera, her apartment is dusty--cobweb covered. This beloved woman died many years ago. WHAT! Does this make sense to the reader? Of course not! Does it make sense to Harry? Never! The scene is reminiscent of Charles Dickens' Great Expectations: the room where jilted Miss Havisham's wedding feast sits decaying amidst the ruinous remains of her wedding day.
How are these incongruous events to make sense? Can they make sense? Is Harry succumbing to the same fever that kept him sheltered for many days upon his pained arrival in beautiful Paris? Has time somehow passed him by or is he living in an even grander deceit than he first thought?
The Woman in the Fifth is a read that could easily leave you engrossed till its final pages. The ending is odd, strange, peculiar, different, bizarre, outlandish, weird--I haven't enough adjectives to describe it. It may leave you intrigued like the movie Ghost, or it may leave you disappointed that a more sensational realistic ending did not occur.
Needless to say. Readers will find The Woman in the Fifth hard to put down hoping for a climax befitting its dangerous story. I would recommend it to readers who love the mysterious, the mystifying, the baffling, the unearthly, the incredible. In the end, whatever judgement you pass upon this work, you will have to admit it was entertaining and well written.
This review was written by Regis Schilken, author of TEARS OF DECEIT!