Book Club: The Expats

I picked up The Expats from the library shelves thinking that I would encounter a story about living abroad. I barely noticed that it was an espionage thriller, but I’m sure that I decided at the time that it would be interesting anyway. After all, the jacket had glowing praise for the book.

The basic premise of the book is that Kate, a CIA agent who has been keeping her job secret from even her husband for fifteen years, quits the assassination business when her husband gets a new job in “international banking” that requires the family to relocate to Luxembourg. As Kate struggles to rebuild her life in Europe as a stay-at-home mom to their two small sons, she can’t escape her propensity to look at her new world through the eyes of a spy. Author Chris Pavone creates an intricately woven plot in which no one is who he or she appears to be, including Kate’s husband Dexter.

I’m not going to spend much time here critiquing the plot of the book. As many of the reviewers on Amazon said, although the story has great promise and is just itching to be made into a movie, there are bits that just don’t ring true. That being said, it’s a good first novel and is worth a beach or weekend read.

This is the second time in recent months that I’ve been uncomfortable with the voice and behaviors of a female character who was created by a man. I don’t think I notice this as much in books written by female writers, and it seems as though I’d see lots of negative reviews by men if the male character’s voice was off-kilter. Or perhaps it’s just the types of books that I read; maybe there are more problems with this than I know. Any opinions?

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9 responses

  1. Funny, this exact topic came up at my last book group. (The book in question was Rebel Angels by Robertson Davies. Although I am very fond of Davies I had to agree that the female narrator is not very convincing. And did he really have to make her THAT beautiful??) I am usually distrustful of opposite-sex first-person narrators, particularly when the writer is male and the narrator female. One of the few exceptions I can think of is Atonement by Ian McEwen. Briony is one of the most amazingly convincing voices I’ve ever come across. I could hardly believe she was written by a man. 🙂

  2. Men don’t generally care as much how they’re portrayed, because we don’t have the wiring to do so much self-analysis. Besides, women novelists usually portray men as their perfect man, which is unattainable in real life.

    1. I totally disagree that “women novelists usually portray men as their perfect man.” In fact, I’d say that women writers use the male characters in their novels to show the divide between the sexes and the intrigue that comes with creating a happy medium between the two.

      My commentary is more directed to the issue of women writing a man as the lead character in a novel, rather than being a foil for the lead woman. Do we voice them correctly, with all warts and perfection intact? Comments, anyone?

  3. I think male authors can write women’s characters convincingly … but not all of them. This book sounds a bit like those action movies where you just need to suspend your belief that any of it could actually happen in real life to enjoy it.

    1. Agreed — it kind of reminded me of Mr. and Mrs. Smith except the main characters weren’t trying to kill each other.

  4. Agreed about the nature of the character – It would have been almost more interesting to see a former-spy-turned-stay-at-home-dad with an international banker for a wife.

  5. Interesting. Thanks for the review.
    I found your blog while researching expat books.
    As an expat myself (and a writer who is writing a book about my experience) I also thought this was about life abroad. For selfish reasons (mainly being it leaves room for my book) I’m glad it wasn’t, but now that I hear the storyline, I’m not sure I want to read it. Thrillers have never interested me. Same goes for period pieces or crime. I’m a Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Barbara Kingsolver (though I’ve been thoroughly disappointed with her latest offerings) reader.
    Who knows though, I may give in and read this purely for research sake. 🙂 Thanks again for the review and lovely to stumble here.
    warmest, an American expat from the Austrian alps xx

    1. Thanks for stopping by and good luck with your book!

      1. Sure. Good luck with your blogging.

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