3 / 5 Stars; Drama, Suspense
Kalila Rahim’s marriage has never been perfect, but she runs out of time to reconcile the night her husband drives off in a rage and careens over a cliff. Months later, Kalila struggles to provide for her son with a single salary—the salary of a prostitute. Tension in their neighborhood is rising, and as Kalila fights to hide her secret, curiosity, jealousy, and bitterness threaten to expose her. The eyes of her neighbors, the masjid, and eligible men in the community are on her, and she must do whatever it takes to conceal her secret life from her son.
The Gatekeeper's Notebook is a tense read from the first page. Author Sahar Abdulaziz sets up a series of betrayals and schemes that are certainly entertaining. The book is billed as a psychological thriller, but it seems to lack the misdirection and gentle horror that genre entails. Despite that, the plot remains a thrilling ride, with tension at every turn. The characters seem to live and breathe, some wanting nothing but their own self-promotion, others observing from afar, directing us to examine the morality behind the scenes.
I particularly appreciated that one of the central characters was autistic; I jump at books that go out of their way to reflect reality in this way. There is something so pure and honest about how this character, Melvin, views the drama in his life and in his neighborhood. It provides a refreshingly unbiased, detached interpretation that contrasts so well with the heightened emotions of the surrounding characters.
Each chapter begins from the perspective of a new character, so the story remains fresh, if a little disorienting at times. Because of the large variety of viewpoints in this novel, there is a fair amount of backstory to be told, especially in the beginning, which tends to slow the narrative. On the other hand, with the high stakes and emotionality in the story, these slower points may be necessary to even the pacing.
The Gatekeeper's Notebook is a sharp, suspenseful read with characters you will grow to love or love to hate.
Content warning: this story contains strong language, descriptive sex scenes, and physical violence.
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