Title: The Never List
Author: Koethi Zan
Publication date: 1 August 2013
Publisher: Vintage Digital (Random House)
Length: 320 pages
Age group: Adult
Add it: Goodreads
Buy it: Amazon | The Book Depository
In a nutshell
For years, best friends Sarah and Jennifer kept what they called the “Never List”: a list of actions to be avoided, for safety’s sake, at all costs. But one night, against their best instincts, they accept a cab ride with grave, everlasting consequences. For the next three years, they are held captive with two other girls in a dungeon-like cellar by a connoisseur of sadism. Ten years later, at thirty-one, Sarah is still struggling to resume a normal life, living as a virtual recluse under a new name, unable to come to grips with the fact that Jennifer didn’t make it out of that cellar. Now, her abductor is up for parole and Sarah can no longer ignore the twisted letters he sends from jail.
Finally, Sarah decides to confront her phobias and the other survivors—who hold their own deep grudges against her. When she goes on a cross-country chase that takes her into the perverse world of BDSM, secret cults, and the arcane study of torture, she begins unravelling a mystery more horrifying than even she could have imagined.
Wow, wow, and wow. It’s been a few weeks since I finished this book and to tell you the truth, I’m still speechless. Based on what people were saying about it when the first proof copies came out and how many times I saw it being mentioned on social media, I knew it would be a memorable story, but I wasn’t expecting it to be as powerful and mind-blowing as it was. Saying that it was perfect wouldn’t completely be true because there were a few minor details I wasn’t particularly keen on but I found it unputdownable all the same and it’s definitely one of my favourite books this year.
In fact, it’s typically one of those books where two sentences in you already know it’s going to be an amazing read. Not only because of the arresting opening and the plot, which are brilliant in themselves, but mostly because Zan’s writing is so powerful, so eloquent that it’s impossible not to be completely captivated by it. I was immediately hooked and wanted to find out more about the two girls: how did this list come about? What happened in their childhood that made them write this list? What happened to them down in the cellar? And most importantly, how and why did Sarah get out and Jennifer didn’t? Who was this sadistic person who kept them captive for all these years and what was his motive? And while these questions quietly whirl around in your head, Zan slowly reveals the girls’ past and what they went through… one secret, one tiny morsel of information at a time.
On top of a plot, the characters – including the main as well as secondary characters – are also brilliant. The way Zan describes what Sarah’s life has been like since she escaped from the cellar and how much she struggles even with the most routine, natural tasks (shaking someone’s hand, for example) every single day is spot on. Having gone through quite a long period of panic attacks myself, by reading Sarah’s monologues I could literally feel what she was feeling at the time, which made the reading experience even more realistic and frightening.
What I was a bit gutted about is that the story gets a bit slow after a while. About halfway through the story we get to a point where Sarah decides to face her fears and find out what happened to her friend Jennifer. She contacts one of the girls she “shared” the cellar with all those years ago and together they embark on a dangerous journey to find out more about their abductor and to find Jennifer’s body. And I found these chapters a lot slower, less exciting than the ones before. It’s not that it’s boring or that nothing’s happening, because it is, but compared to the novel’s suspenseful beginning and its nail-shredding ending, the middle was still too uneventful for my liking. The other thing I didn’t really like is that there are still some questions left unanswered when the story comes to an end, which always bothers me. I won’t list them all here because I don’t want to spoil anything but… what happened to Noah and his “crew”, for example? Having said that, I absolutely loved the last third of the book and what happens at the house at the very end completely freaked me out (let’s just say this scenario is one of my worst nightmares so you can imagine my terror).
The Never List is hands down one of the best thrillers I’ve read for a while and after such a well-written and astonishing debut I’d read absolutely anything by Koethi Zan. It’s just brilliant. Highly recommended!
Read it if you…
are not home alone. Do not read it in a pitch dark room on your own like I did because… well, you won’t get much sleep after reading it. Do read it, however, if you like the combination of beautiful, captivating writing and a fantastic plot full of twists and turns.
* Many thanks to Vintage for sending me an e-copy for review *