A writer knows the importance of their characters. They need to be relatable and believable. Although fictional, they need to be alive in the way they act, speak and respond. They have aspirations, jobs, families and more. At times, an author will create a character based on themselves or will draw on their personal experiences and opinions to create them. However, what happens when the writer’s reality and the protagonist’s reality begin to mould together? When is it fiction and when is it real? These questions are explored in Sulari Gentill’s Crossing the Lines, a story where a writer’s imagination and reality become crossed.
This book is a crime mixed with mystery mixed with psychological fiction. It stars two protagonists who are writing one another’s stories. It begins with Madeleine d’Leon conjuring up Edward ‘Ned’ McGinnity, a crime fiction writer just like her. However, as she writes her story it becomes apparent that Ned is also writing hers as it happens. In Ned’s world, he is in love with his best friend, Willow, who is married to someone else. At her art exhibition, he begins to tell her about his idea of a story, describing his protagonist Madeleine to her. Then, a murder. In Madeleine’s world, she is dealing with an emotional past and a strained relationship, and in coming up with Ned she finds a place to escape. The worlds are blurred and it is the reader’s task to figure out who the real writer is.
It’s not as easy as you may think. The beginning of the story forces you to believe Madeleine is in control of the events. However, once we start to get into the detail of Ned’s life and when he ‘begins’ to write about her life, it becomes very hard to keep up with who’s the author. It all starts very innocently, the only confusion being the decisions made by each writer when establishing a part of the others life. For example, there is a link between Madeleine and Ned and their literary agent, and she pops up in both stories. However, they both ponder over the fact around why they decided to make that decision.
As the book title suggests, the lines begin to cross. Madeleine and Ned start to talk to each other. When she begins to write about his past, she asks him if it’s okay as if he’s alive and real. They have conversations about their decisions, like why she would write him to do something and vice versa. It becomes quite personal between them and you see both characters grow to be dependent of the other.
Ned’s life is turbulent as he tries to investigate a murder where he is the prime suspect. His want to be with his best friend motivates some of his actions. On the other side, Madeleine stays at home all day as she writes her story and hangs out with Ned. She is happy where she is until she starts to wonder about her husband. Why is he working so late? Why is he so defensive? Why are there two empty wine glasses on the bench? These doubts fill her mind, which feeds into Ned, and they lean on one another for comfort.
Suddenly, Ned’s best friend doesn’t mean as much to him. Madeleine becomes protective and jealous of their relationship, almost forcing Ned to shift his view on her. It also seems that Ned is shifting Madeleine’s opinion of her husband. Their dependency on each other grows and before the reader knows it, they’re consumed by these two worlds colliding. One can’t be without the other.
At first, it’s all a part of the imagination. Then, it becomes physical contact. This begs the question, what is real in this book?
A story about where the line is for a writer in their commitment to produce a believable character and what happens when that line is crossed. A unique and gripping tale, it will have you questioning as a writer, how far do we go in our stories and where is the line between creativity and madness?
What I thought
What a crazy ride this was! As I began to read this book, I found myself really connecting to the characters and how they went about their lives as writers. The niggling feeling of writing a certain character or having a scene playing in the back of my mind begging to be put onto a page. There was one quotation that stood out regarding this passion, which came from Willow speaking about her love for painting:
“I would still paint if the world was dark and nobody could see anything.”
relate to reading or writing. However, we all have that one passion that drives us. Hey, maybe you have more than one passion that drives you. I know I do! It can become an obsession of ours… but that’s not a bad thing, surely?
Well, this book will have you rethinking that! It’s unique to all I have read in the past and I loved it. If I had the time, I would’ve read it nonstop till I was done. It was hard to peel myself away when I had to and I was in danger of missing appointments and meetings whenever I lost myself in it. It had me questioning what was happening and why, and as the story progressed I found myself questioning my questions. One thing I can say about this book is you do find yourself going deeper and deeper into the rabbit hole.
And then it ends. I’ve had time to sit back and think about it but at the time I felt like my questions were unanswered and that it was the easy way out of what could have been a complex ending. At first, I felt upset about it. Then I thought about all the foreshadowing and the genius behind it, and I realised how outstanding it is and the amount of work that Gentill must have put into it to make all the dots connect.
The whole story works as a red herring to take the reader’s attention from the main point. We’re working alongside two unreliable narrators and yet it is only recognisable at the end that this is the case, so as the story progresses we build our trust in the emotions felt by both characters. If they think someone is being unreasonable then we ultimately feel the same way (or at least I did). Yes, this story is built to be an unusual crime/mystery piece of fiction but I think the mystery isn’t around the crime itself but in what is going on.
It’s hard to explain without getting into the details and I am trying not to spoil it because I want everyone to give this book a go. If you’re someone who isn’t into mysteries or isn’t motivated by confusion and curiosity, then maybe this isn’t the book for you. However, if you’re someone who likes to go on an unpredictable ride that has you questioning everything happening then I cannot begin to tell you how much I recommend this book! It’s probably not for everyone but I think it’s worth experiencing it.
There is no doubt that this is psychological fiction. After the crazy experience I had reading it, it has made me want to get my hands on more. Please send through any recommendations if you know of any!
Charlotte is a reading and writing lover who has completed a creative writing intensive course at the University of Oxford and is a current university student studying a double degree in journalism and creative writing. If you are curious to learn more, check out the 'About' page.