Today I’m reviewing The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz which was published in paperback on 5th August. This was the first book I’d read by the author. I did watch the TV adaptation of “You Should Have Known” (filmed as “The Undoing”) last year, though I understand it differs from the novel quite a bit.
When a young writer dies before completing his first novel, his teacher, Jake, (himself a failed novelist) helps himself to its plot. The resulting book is a phenomenal success. But what if somebody out there knows?
Somebody does. And if Jake can’t figure out who he’s dealing with, he risks something far worse than the loss of his career.
Jean Hanff Korelitz was raised in New York City and graduated from Dartmouth College and Clare College, Cambridge. She is the author of the novels A JURY OF HER PEERS (1996), THE SABBATHDAY RIVER (1999), THE WHITE ROSE (2005) and ADMISSION (2009), as well as a children’s novel, INTERFERENCE POWDER (2003) and a book of poems, THE PROPERTIES OF BREATH (1988),
She has contributed articles and essays to many magazines, including Vogue, Real Simple, Newsweek, Reader’s Digest, More and Travel and Leisure (Family), and the anthologies Modern Love and Because I Said So. She lives in Princeton, New Jersey with her husband, Princeton professor Paul Muldoon, and their children, and works full time as a writer and part time as a chauffeur (i.e. mom).
In 2006 and 2007 she worked for Princeton’s Office of Admission as an outside reader.
I do love a book about books, or more specifically in this case, about writing and writers. The premise of this really grabbed me and it reminded me a little of A Ladder to the Sky by John Boyne.
We start with Jake at a teaching post, two published novels behind him, the first moderately successful, the second barely making a mark. He is unmotivated to write any more and makes his money by giving advice to and teaching prospective writers. It is in this most recent teaching post that he comes across an arrogant young man who clams to have a fail-safe plot which will make him famous; a plot that he somewhat reluctantly shares with Jake
Having found out later that the young man has died, and noting that the novel has not surfaced, Jake takes the story and crafts a novel around it, which, as anticipated, becomes a huge success.
Jake struggles with the ethical dilemma of what he has done throughout the book, especially as he eventually starts to uncover the origins of the plot itself. It causes the reader to do the same…..what would you REALLY do in that situation?
We jump forward to Jake after the publication of the book, where he is successful and living a much more comfortable life, at least on the surface. Underneath it all though, he still struggles with what he did, and lives his life waiting for it to unravel and come back to bite him. Unsurprisingly, this does eventually happen, with increasingly menacing anonymous correspondence arriving, first through email, then social media posts, then through his letter box and directly to his publisher. The events in Jake’s current life are also interspersed with excerpts from the novel.
The guilt and anxiety Jake feel really seeped out of the book for me. The great career-ending event that he had been dreading appears to be getting closer and closer, with a certain inevitability that he can’t avoid, and I really felt that along with him.
The “plot” itself was revealed little by little rather than shared at the outset, which made me read on to see exactly what this sure-fire hit of a plot could be. In the end, it was interesting but not exactly something that has never been seen before, which calls back to Jake’s early commentary about stories all having been told before. The build up and hints of the plot’s uniqueness perhaps built up a certain amount of hype that couldn’t be delivered on.
Finally, the plot of the ACTUAL book was perhaps a little predictable. I’m not sure if this would be the same for others, but I could see the identity of the anonymous blackmailer from a mile off. That said, it didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the book, I enjoyed seeing how it all unfolded and was still engaged enough to read on and discover exactly what had transpired.
Verdict: One of the more enjoyable books I’ve read so far this year, would recommend it to anyone who enjoys books about the writing process with a bit of mystery thrown in.