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?
Oh well… E.J. Noyes cannot stop surprising her readers, can she? ‘Alone’ is a book hard to categorise: it’s a game of contrasts. It’s dark but also optimistic, it’s about solitude but features a couple, it’s unsettling but, at the same time, hopeful. If you are acquainted with Ms. Noyes’s work, you will recognise the imprints of her style that readers have learned to love. Her books are always written in first person usually from the point of view of a broken woman with her co-lead presented as a flawed but righteous rescuer. What I consider outstanding is that, despite this apparent repetition, the stories have very different settings (war zone, corporate world, sports and now a psychological experiment) that make them all very distinctive, original and, at the same time, realistic.
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 readers 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. The systematic appearance of these characters is unsettling, disorienting and sometimes painful. The reader can only empathise with Celeste’s present and past sufferings and our hearts break for her. But, as her isolation comes to an end, the readers witness the subtle changes in her mood and we start to discover the real Celeste. Her redeeming moments are the readers’ too. My favourite is Celeste’s first hug in almost four years, the description of that scene is incredibly poetic and moving.
Regarding the mystery side of the story, I think the author plays tricks with the reader by giving certain (maybe too many) hints of what is about to come. I think it was made on purpose because, even with big advance notice of what was about to happen, the readers 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 novel has a feel-good ending that will leave romance fans completely happy.
Overall, 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.
ARC provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.