Written by SJI Holliday — So you like travel and meeting new people? Consider this a fair warning. SJI Holliday’s latest travel thriller will make you reconsider your next chance encounter with a seemingly innocent fellow traveller.
Laura breaks her leg in a freak accident and cancels her plans to travel on the Trans-Siberian Express with best friend, Carrie. Violet, who has just been dumped by her boyfriend in Thailand, happens to be in the right place at the right time and agrees to take Laura’s ticket and accompany Carrie for the rest of the train trip.
The story starts off light and breezy, telling the adventurous tale of two young women exploring the world and having fun along the way. SJI Holliday lulls us into a false sense of security, thinking this is just another travelogue with a growing friendship at its core.
However, it soon becomes apparent that Violet’s fondness for Carrie is turning into an unsettling obsession reminiscent of Single White Female. Violet isn’t the helpless innocent she works hard to portray. Not only is she a compulsive liar, but she displays an irrational jealousy towards anyone who gets close to Carrie, the popular party girl. Her mood swings and asocial behaviour escalate and danger looms. In spite of multiple warning signs, Carrie believes she can deal with Violet’s behaviour until the end of the trip.
When they reach Russia, Violet feels neglected and befriends a local. A wild, drunken party gets out of hand and Violet is pushed over the edge. And once Violet’s over the edge, there’s no going back. Even though the tell-tale signs were there all along, the sudden change in mood still catches you off guard.
A post-party incident involving Carrie catapults Violet into an unstoppable chain of events and her true psychotic colours are exposed, especially to anyone who is unlucky enough to cross her body-riddled path. At the beginning of the novel Violet explains to Carrie that she was named Violet after a Hole song which includes the lyrics, “And the sky was all violet / I want it again, but violent, more violent.” It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy if ever there was one. It’s also no coincidence that ‘Violet’ is only three consonants away from ‘violence’.
Judging from Violet’s inner dialogue and the glimpses into her neglected childhood and the psychological scars that came with it, there’s no doubt her mental state is nothing new. From an early age she’s been an outsider who prefers to blend into the background. “I watch them a lot. Watch, listen, learn. You have to know what you’re dealing with before you can try to infiltrate,” she says. The strongest aspect of the novel is the utter creepiness of Violet’s thoughts. You are inadvertently drawn into her twisted, psychotic little mind and begin to anticipate the mayhem that is about to be unleashed.
The novel, much like Violet, feels aptly schizophrenic. Initially it reads fast and easy and you may impatiently wonder when the scary part is coming. And this is probably the author’s intention. When it does arrive, it’s so unsettling you don’t want to continue reading, but, of course, you have to know how it ends. So you do.
SJI Holliday’s previous books – including Banktoun trilogy – have been described as creepy and claustrophobic. Even though some parts of Violet are set on the Trans-Siberian Express, most of it plays out at stops along the way, so the opportunity for a claustrophobic, Agatha Christie-esque train journey is missed. Nonetheless, Violet has a fair amount of tension and psychological manipulation to make up for it. It may take a while for the suspense to start building up but when it does there’s not stopping it.
The last chapter of Violet’s woeful tale rushes to an end at break-neck speed. It comes with a twist and plenty of questions which aren’t supplied with clear answers. Unlike the building tension of Violet’s potential psychotic behaviour, this is one twist you will not see coming and it’s possibly the highlight of the novel. Initial perceptions are turned on their head and you realise that maybe, like Carrie, you are also not the best judge of character and the validity of the characters’ apparent truths.
Violet is a comfortable uncomfortable read. You will easily sprint through the pages, but it will leave you unsettled, in limbo and maybe even a little bit perplexed. Mostly, it will make you thankful for not having a Violet in your life, yet worried you might and just don’t know it yet.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars