Book Review : William Boyle - The Lonely Witness (2018)
Pre-Order The Lonely Witness here (will be released on May 1st)
There are hundreds of new authors hitting your Amazon/Goodreads recommendations every year and few of them are worth reading. Most of them have latched on an marketable idea and turning up something you've read before. Not William Boyle, though. He's been one of these emerging voices that managed to remain exciting since the release of his powerful and elegiac first novel Gravesend, in 2013. The intimacy of Boyle's writing and his genuine passion for finding the human beings behind stereotypes makes his work more vivid and memorable than whatever you've been reading.
I'm happy to announce that The Lonely Witness is a continuation of William Boyle's growing legacy of kicking ass and it has enough narrative curve balls to feel elusive and unpredictable.
Amy Falconetti, the titular lonely witness, is a young woman running away from past heartbreak and questionable life choices. She does that by volunteering as an eucharistic minister in her old neighborhood and giving communion to old people who are unable to make it to church. Her life changes when Vincent, a twitchy lowlife, gains access to the house keys of her 90 years old client. Not knowing how to deal with Vincent without starting a legal process against him, she starts following him around, but... uh, oh... Vincent gets murdered one night. And it makes Amy more curious than scared.
William Boyle is great at writing lovable losers. And by that, I mean not in a traditional way. He doesn't write complacent, but charismatic alcoholics who take poor decision over poor decision to make up for their own laziness and cowardice. Boyle's characters are people confronting failure, who experience real, relatable suffering and are reacting poorly to it. Amy is affected by a tough breakup, Vincent is a powerless dude trying to change his life for the first time and Dom... you'll see about Dom. What makes the characters of The Lonely Witness so relatable and engaging is that they could all be you. They are tough to judge because nobody's really above acting the way they do.
So, The Lonely Witness is split in two parts, the way conventional thrillers are: the first part builds a mystery and the second is unraveling it. This is where it gets a little unequal. While the first half has complex and engaging exposition, it can get a little hollow and preachy at times. There's a passage in particular where Amy's ex is lecturing her on the artificial nature of social media that made me roll my eyes. But the second half more than makes up for it. It's absolute dynamite. Amy is not only caught with a low-key violent and unpredictable protagonist, she's comes at a crossroads where she needs to choose what kind of person she'll become. She has to fight for her soul.
Dennis Lehane once said in interview that noir is working class tragedy. While I disagree with this definition, I do think it suits Lehane's earlier works and that it definitely suits what William Boyle is doing. The Lonely Witness has a strong Shakespearean edge. It's Hamlet, seen through Ophelia's eyes meets a mid-life crisis Rebel Without a Cause. And that eclectic mix of influences is new and exciting to me. Props to William Boyle for writing a female characters that isn't a thinly veiled sexual fantasy, too. He translated the vulnerability of being a woman surrounded by dangerous men in a life or death situation quite well. The Lonely Witness is coming out next week and I predict it'll be one of the hits of the summer. Get on it before it's cool.