Spy on the run

Spy on the run

I have to start with a confession — I have enjoyed Stephenie Meyer’s other books; the Twilight series as well as The Host. Yes, they were flawed and definitely cannot be considered as literary fiction, but I was kept engaged by plot and plot movement, more than the language or style. So, when I heard that Meyer was releasing her next book, a spy thriller at that, I knew I would pick it up.

For those who missed the whirlwind that was the Twilight series between 2005 and 2008, Meyer wrote a series of books about vampires and werewolves, the main plotline focusing on a love story between a human and a vampire. Teens, pre-teens and definitely-non-teens worldwide, fell in love with the books and the world it was set in, which in turn spurned movies, yet more fans... and fan wars, too!

Meyer, who turned film producer for new literary talent, followed the Twilight set with The Host, which debuted as a #1 bestseller in the US, in 2008. Set in a world where an (alien) enemy has taken over, an alien soul battles mentally and emotionally with a human soul for control of the human host body. While rather simplistic, the tug and sway of thought and emotion was quite gripping.

The Chemist is set exclusively in the world of humans, but humans in all the shades of grey, the genre being what it is. A former agent of the US government is on the run. From people within the agency. Who are trying to kill her for knowing too much.

Yes, alright, you know this story. I know this story; everyone does. Hollywood releases many versions of this story every year, tweaked many times over. “Forget saving your country, forget saving innocent lives, forget the state-of-the-art facilities, and the groundbreaking science, and the unlimited budget. Forget the seven-figure salary. How about not being murdered?”

No, this is not a summary of the book, it’s in the book. And it is the book. The introduction to the world of the heroine Alex, seemingly forever on the run, reads like a frame-by-frame description of a movie. Every single possible detail is explained. Given what they say about a picture being worth a thousand words, you wonder at the book’s verbosity. The only thing that stood out for this reviewer was that the character likes peaches — for eating, and for other nefarious purposes, too.

In a mildly interesting flip on the usual dynamics in such a story, the male love interest is saved by Alex, leading to both of them being on the run together. Add another quick-witted character whose exchanges bring in a dash of humour and a relief from the non-stop exposition. Add some homegrown fancy killing tools, some plot twists and turns, some characters that come in to help in timely fashion, and The Chemist has checked every box in the cliché list.

Meyer rather disappoints with this story. In her earlier works, be it a human or a werewolf or an alien, one heard the character’s inner voice clear and loud. Even her other-worldly characters feel more real than this very-human human. A human who is apparently very skilled at her work and intelligent and interesting, if emotionally closed off, but who the reader doesn’t get to know much. The sum of the parts is just not equal to the whole.

Everything about Alex feels like a character who thinks and feels instead of a person. (“I am the bogeyman in a dark and very scary world... I am the monster they see in their nightmares.”) With The Chemist, the reader becomes impatient to get into the story, this despite the story having started many pages ago. All through, we are told about stuff, rather than shown it. Once the romance gets going, Alex tells her love interest that theirs wasn’t a Hollywood meet-cute. I beg to differ. The book is all Hollywood, all the way.

Soon enough, the reader finds herself detached from the protagonist and pondering instead on related details, like the research Meyer would have put in, to be able to tell us about how not to be killed while on the run from professional killers. Her Acknowledgments page lists an impressive array of people who helped with information on killing, torture, molecular biology, gas masks, death traps, drug deals and guns.

Throughout The Chemist, I was reminded of The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum; there was something of a similar flavour. And so it came as no surprise when I read that Meyer was strongly inspired by the movie The Bourne Legacy  and has dedicated this book to Jason Bourne and Aaron Cross, the protagonist from the Bourne Legacy.


The Chemist
Stephenie Meyer
Hachette
2016, pp 518
650

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