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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Scarlett Thomas

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To purchase Seaside

Title: Seaside
Author: Scarlett Thomas
Genre: Novel
Written: 1999
Length: 310 pages
Availability: Seaside - US
Seaside - UK
Seaside - Canada
  • A Lily Pascale Mystery

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Our Assessment:

B : weaves somewhat unevenly about, but comes together reasonably well

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Publishers Weekly . 26/9/2005 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "This novel of mixed-up identities, murder and malice sizzles." - Publishers Weekly

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Seaside, the final volume in Scarlett Thomas's trio of Lily Pascale-mysteries, is the most awkward of the three, Thomas seemingly uncertain about where exactly to go with her protagonist and the series -- Lily wondering about whether to turn full-time PI, for example, and Thomas presumably wondering whether or not to continue with the character (she didn't). Typical of the uncertainty is how the now twenty-six-year-old Lily is, nominally, still: "a lecturer in crime fiction at the local university" but Thomas seems to find that just gets in the way here, so, pretty much for the duration of the investigation, she conveniently sees to it that: "the university was going to be closed for the rest of the week while they sorted out the heating problems", freeing up Lily to go snooping around (and getting to know the new neighbor better, and so on); not just that, but when the case extends a bit longer -- well:

The university would probably be open again today and I would be expected in. But I would be phoning David to tell him I had the flu.
       For practically the entire book Lily's actual job as university lecturer is not just an inconvenience to Thomas, but actually more or less simply ignored -- which makes the stakes of the will-she-or-won't-she debate as Lily wrestles with applying for the permanent lecturer job (and the security and career-path that offers) -- pretty much hers for the taking, if she applies -- seem rather less than they should, too.
       Elsewhere, too, Thomas struggles some with building her character -- in terms of thinking long-term, and building this as a series --, with former love-interest Fenn bursting very briefly onto the scene but then easily dispensed with, for example, while other family-plus members pop up, at best, briefly on the sidelines: her father, a more prominent presence in In Your Face, doesn't feature here, but his girlfriend Star offers psychological insight and briefly drops by; Lily's mother, though in the neighborhood, is mostly overlooked as well. (There's also a cat, which Lily and Thomas also seem to lose track of.)
       Worst are Lily's romantic struggles. She has an itch, and is quickly tempted -- and with American screenwriter Jake Tuscon renting the place next door a convenient possible love-interest is right on her doorstep. But, of course, Jake is a bit of a mystery man, with his own secrets and past, and Lily jumps to quick conclusions at each stage of their complicated, developing relationship before she finally understands what's up, and can show herself to be understanding. It's an unconvincing whirlwind will-they-won't-they romance, the one area where Thomas is on very unsteady ground -- scenes include Lily, thinking things are heading in the right direction, shopping at the local Safeway: "glowing, head in the clouds, fantasising, in love. [...] I vacantly selected about ten bottles of wine to refill my depleted collection, and in each one I saw an evening of unbridled passion. Me and Jack, Jack and me" -- making it all the more unfortunate that the romance features so prominently in the novel.
       There's a case, too, and it doesn't help that it is a rather bizarre one in its original set-up, when successful writer Emma Winter (who happens to also teach a course Lily's mother is taking) offers Lily a big payday. There are these local eighteen-year-old completely identical twins Alexandra and Laura Carter, and one of them has been found dead -- an apparent suicide, but possibly a murder -- and Emma wants Lily to determine which twin is alive (the suicide note was signed 'Laura' -- but the surviving twin claims she is Laura ...), who killed the other one, and why. Emma claims not to have any connection to those involved (it's no surprise to learn that that's not true ...), and of course Lily -- after some initial hesitation -- takes the case.
       The twins' parents owned a hotel -- but recently died in a car accident. That was murder -- but the responsible party has been identified and was jailed. The twins also have an older, wheelchair-bound brother -- who happened to have been at college with Lily.
       Lily spends a lot of time trying to ascertain whether the surviving twin is indeed Laura. The twins were physically absolutely identical, but did have different personalities, and Laura was definitely the dominant one. Eventually Lily comes up with a ruse in order to figure out whether 'Laura' is Laura or Alex -- a rather far-fetched exercise ..... (Similarly far-fetched: Lily puts Laura up at her house for a while while she's investigating .....)
       It turns out there's an almost ridiculously elaborate scheme behind it all -- redeemed in part by its at least being rather clever, especially in its dark resolution.
       Before the surviving twin is presented as completely over the top (yeah, Thomas goes a bit far with that ...) there are some nice, foreboding scenes, such as when Lily puts up 'Laura' and tries to comfort her:
     'This must be very upsetting for you,' I said, eventually.
     'It's horrible,' she said. 'I've been so afraid.'
     'Well, it's all over now,' I said soothingly.
     'Is it ?' she said and turned the TV over.
       The twins also did ballet -- and one was exceptionally talented -- and Swan Lake, with its Black and White Swans comes up; the story-summary reflecting on the twins' dynamics:
     'So it's all about mistaken identity ?'
     'Absolutely. Pretending to be someone you're not to get what you want.'
     'Post-modern,' commented Jack.
       You can feel the future Thomas, the direction she goes in her later books, itching to get out here, but hemmed in by the constraints of this series she's developed, and the genre -- no wonder she ditched it and let her talents properly unfold in the novels that followed. There are some nice touches here -- including the unexpected explanation behind the title -- as well as some truly awful stuff (all the would-be romance ...), but most of all Seaside feels forced. There's enough talent at work here, and a wild enough case behind it, to make it readable and reasonably enjoyable, but it's not a real success -- including being, in quite too many ways, just lazy (it has the feel of a rush-job, too).

- M.A.Orthofer, 18 February 2019

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Reviews: Scarlett Thomas: Other books by Scarlett Thomas under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       English author Scarlett Thomas was born in 1972.

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