Friday, August 5, 2016

Book Review: The Gauguin Connection by Estelle Ryan

Genevieve Lenard has set herself up with a comfortable, routine, predictable life. As someone with high functioning autism, but who is also an expert at body language, she stays in the safety of her viewing room at an insurance company to observe people via video, catching scam artists for her boss, Phillip. However, when Phillip's friend Manny comes to him with a murder case connected to his own workplace, the EDA, Phillip offers Genevieve as the outside investigator Manny needs. What begins as a fascinating research project for Genevieve develops into a global conspiracy, and her routine life is disrupted by people on both sides of the law.

I found Genevieve a fascinating and sympathetic character. Her "quirks", as other characters call them, are both a blessing and a curse. Her research skills are phenomenal, but she can get so lost in the research she forgets about, well, everything-eating and sleeping included. She shuts down when overwhelmed, but her laser focus on certain subjects can hold it off. I feel like the author could have made her more consistent at times. For example, her allowing the "thief" Colin Frey to continue hanging around, based on being intrigued and some implicit attraction, didn't seem particularly in character for her; nor did her venturing into an extremely dangerous, stressful situation at the end. I also felt like her Mozart coping mechanism read more like a gimmick at times. Other than that, I really loved her character. As someone who can get really into research (although not as far as forgetting to eat or sleep!), I understood her desire to tell them about ALL THE DETAILS. Some may find her rather technical and pedantic explanations annoying; but I loved them.

I had trouble liking Manny, mainly because of how incredibly dismissive he could be of her. He constantly puts down her social skills and complains when she is too blunt; yet he acts exactly the same way. I didn't like that Genevieve kept justifying his behavior as stress. Stress shouldn't be a justification for regularly insulting and denigrating someone you work with in a professional capacity.

I found both Colin and his friend Vinnie to be rather supercilious. In fact, Colin, Vinnie, Phillip, and Manny all act like they know what's best for Genevieve, and she just tends to go along with it, although she had one great part where she got fed up with their behavior. (It didn't stick.) Colin and Vinnie both keep calling her by a nickname despite her insistence on calling her Genevieve. Sure, she is fine with it later, but until she was fine with it calling someone by a different name is insulting. Manny, too, regularly calls her "missy", and even though it becomes an endearing insult, again, he uses it as a means of control earlier. The overprotective behavior by all men involved, with the implications that both Colin and Vinnie were behaving this way due to attraction, was a bit irritating.

I also felt like the mystery's solution was, well, obvious. The reader, along with Genevieve, can quickly make connections and figure everything out. That might be partly due to being in Genevieve's head, but at times things seemed so obvious that the other characters' surprise and amazement at Genevieve's intelligence felt a bit ridiculous. For comparison, the Sherlock Holmes mysteries could be solved by the reader, but it was less obvious; and if you don't get it, at the end you're facepalming along with Watson because it was so easy after all.

One other part that bothered me was the villain's throw away line about "people like you shouldn't be allowed out in public" when Genevieve experiences a shut down. It felt like a shoe-horned anvil, just to drive home that this villain is really villainous and you shouldn't insult autistic people! We're already voluntarily reading a book in which the protagonist is autistic and lives a full life. We don't need to have that anvil dropped.

I realize I just spent a few paragraphs complaining about things, but really, I liked this book. Those bits and pieces annoyed me, but overall the character interaction was great, especially Genevieve watching with exasperation as the boys argue with one another. I also enjoyed how her world slowly opened up as she learned how complex all these people are. The characters truly become sympathetic to me, despite being annoyed with them. In this, the author did an amazing job, since that is the same path Genevieve takes-coming to appreciate these people, warts and all. I will definitely be getting the next book at some point, because I'd like to see where Genevieve's character goes.

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