Review of ‘Alone’ by E.J. Noyes
Audiobook narrated by Abby Craden
Celeste Thorne is taking part in a scientific experiment that involves solitary confinement for four years with a final prize of half a million dollars. More than three years into the study, she finds a woman lurking in the border of her compound. Olivia Soldano is beautiful, caring and enigmatic but her sole presence in the house breaks the rules of the experiment and ultimately, can Celeste trust her?
As in her debut ‘Ask, tell’, this novel is written in present tense which works well to tell the story as a chronicle and to provide immediacy to Celeste’s solitary confinement. In her twisted reality, artificially created to study her behaviour, Celeste learns the meaning of relativity of time: slow when it’s pleasurable, fast when it’s solitary routine. However, from the reader’s point of view, I felt exactly the opposite: whenever Celeste is alone, caught up in her repetitive tasks, I felt that the book lagged, while when Celeste is accompanied, it seemed to propel forward. Some listeners might not like this partial slow pace, for me, it worked fine in setting this world of contrasts with events sometimes mundane, others intense.
Despite Celeste’s isolation, there are a few secondary characters that crowd her daily routine. Each one have their own distinctive voice and a unique relationship with Celeste which Ms. Craden narration captures so well. The systematic appearance of these characters is unsettling, disorienting and sometimes painful. The listener can only empathise with Celeste’s present and past sufferings and our hearts break for her. But, as her isolation comes to an end, we witness the subtle changes in her mood and we start to discover the real Celeste. Her redeeming moments are the listeners’ too. My favourite is Celeste’s first hug in almost four years, the narration of that scene is incredibly poetic and moving.
Regarding the mystery side of the story, I think the author plays tricks with the listeners by giving certain (maybe too many) hints of what is about to come. I think it was made on purpose because, even with a big advance notice of what was about to happen, we are still caught unawares. But, despite its darkest moments, this is a romance and, as usual, Ms. Noyes describes it beautifully. The chemistry between the mains is developed slowly but surely and in parts, it’s almost poetic. If you know Noyes’s work, this is closer to ‘Ask, tell’ than ‘Turbulence’ for the level of angst and the intense relationship between the characters. However, this lesbian romance audiobook has a feel-good ending that will leave romance fans completely happy.
Having read and loved this book and knowing that Abby Craden was narrating it, for me it was a no-brainer to get it as soon it was out. I can tell you it’s worth every penny. Now, if this book was excellently written, the audio result is extraordinary. People who read my reviews know I’m quite demanding and don’t give the highest rating lightly but this audiobook breaks the 5+ star glass ceiling easily. Ms. Craden excels in bringing every single character to life, every angsty feeling, the loneliness, the despair, and the intimacy. Her narration is so vivid that it feels like watching a 4D film and makes the listening experience an absolute pleasure.
This is another excellent novel by E.J. Noyes. ‘Alone’ is a work of contrasts: dark but also optimistic, intense though gentle, unsettling but, at the same time, hopeful. 5 stars. Ms. Craden’s extraordinary narrating performance deserves 6 stars or more. Overall, 5+ stars. Unmissable.