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The Pretty Ones – Ania Ahlborn Book Review

I don’t think I’ve read such a lovely and creepy story about a woman and her brother since The Visitors – Catherine Burns.

Meet Nell who is living a quiet life along with her mute brother in a crappy sub-urb of New York. She works as a typist for a company in an environment where the other co-workers are all female.
And as it stands, Nell is a bit mousey, a bit dull and she feels like she can’t fit in with the “pretty ones”. When an accidental coffee spillage brings her closer to one of the more nicer co-workers, Nell finally thinks she now has a friend.
Mistaking common decency with an interest and a desire to be closer, Nell puts all her hopes in the new acquaintance she made, Linnie, all with the disdain from her brother.

Nell leaned in. She wanted to thank her new friend for her help, to brush her lips across Linnie’s cheek. I’ll never forget this . . . But Linnie pulled away. She cleared her throat. Flashed a nervous smile. Offered Nell the wad of wet paper towels, suddenly uninterested in offering her help. “Anyway, just keep patting at it until it comes out.” An uncomfortable pause. “I should get back to my desk before someone notices I’m gone.”

I can definitely tell that Nell can’t read social cues and she is pretty much inept when it comes to interpersonal relationships.

From their interactions and Nell’s remembering, we can see they both had a very difficult childhood where their mother, Faye, usually brought men home and had sex with them while the children were forced to watch/listen from the wardrobe she closed them in.
That’s not enough as the two of them were often subjected to their mother’s mood swings and when their dad passed away, it only got worse.

Deeply traumatised by their mother, both siblings had formed an unnatural connection with each other and Nelly sees in her brother the only male she can ever trust.

Twenty-two years old and Nell had more in common with the Virgin Mary than she did with any girl on the inbound call-center floor.

The shitty part comes from the fact that not only does Nelly want to belong, she also wants to be in the same sickly-close relationship to her brother.
Her brother turns out to be a controlling jerk – telling her not to get close to other women, not to make friends, not to go out, that the clothes she buys in order to look nicer only make her look like a whore – and not just any whore – like their mother.
Crippled with insecurity, Nelly tries to come out of her shell but she finds herself pushed back by the “cool” girls in the office – the ones with new haircuts, new colours, new clothes.
The jealousy she feels towards them is only comparable with the desire to be one of them. When she gets told by Linnie in no uncertain terms that they were not friends, she looses it a little and we get to see the disturbing face of Nell.

A pair of girls walked into the break room. They paused in their conversation, taking note of Nell as she winced next to the Bunn-o-Matic auto drip. Nell’s eyes shifted to catch their judging glances. Their Janus-faced expressions. Their clown-painted eyes and mouths. She imagined them hanged by the silk scarves they had fashionably tied around their necks. Pictured their faces blue and lifeless as they swung beneath the fluorescent office lights. Not so pretty when you’re dead.

So we know by now that Nell is lonely, does not dress according to the norm and the only person who shows any type of appreciation towards her is her boss. She tries to tell Nell that “She’s not like the others” and that it’s a good thing but it doesn’t sink into Nell’s mind when all she wants is to belong.

When Linnie turns out dead the next day, Nell suspects her brother killed her and at work, she makes a big deal how her friend Linnie died.

But what harm did it do? It was a little white lie. It seemed fair. Linnie Carter had hurt her—the least the unappreciative slut could do was pay her back with a bit of acclaim. So what if Linnie was dead? Nell was still alive.

Yep, Nell is all nasty. I wouldn’t want to be friends with her as she quickly changes her likes and disliked based on looks and the moment someone isn’t on her radar, they become a “slut” or worse.

The next few days she is slowly adopted by a girls group and they all go to lunch and shopping. Her brother dreads the separation and their parasitic lifestyle is worrying – especially since Barrett – her brother – seems to follow her everywhere and destroys her clothes along with her “enemies”.

When two more girls from her office turn up dead, the focus of the police is on whoever works there and their immediate family to see if someone holds a grudge.

Nell looked down at her hands, which were balled into tight fists. She stared at the keys of the typewriter, her eyes fixed upon the H — H for hurt. For hate. For hopelessness. H for Harriet Lamont, the woman who had friends; if Nell just did that, things would be better. Well, Nell had taken that advice, she’d tried to make friends, and now everything was ruined, all because Harriet Lamont thought she and Nell were somehow alike. Cunt.

Nell now knows that her brother is a serial killer and she decides to use this to her advantage and remove from her life the only other person to make her feel bad. Harriet Lamont, her boss.
The murder is premeditated and Nell joins her brother in the “hunt”. Not only does Nell and Barrett kill Harriet, they also kill her daughter who just happened to come out of her bedroom. Nell conveniently faints but the next day she remembers only bits – including her using a knife to make the little daughter smile more.. Imagine the Joker here…

The madness all comes to light as when she stumbles home from work – she sees blood on her hands. Barrett is gone but Barrett was gone a long time – ever since their Dad died.

Present-tense Nell and her four-year-old shadow simultaneously gasped. She pushed herself away from the apartment door. Shook her head, not understanding that newly excavated shred of memory.

Nell, in her grief over the loss of her brother, imagined him alive, growing, writing to her on a yellow notepad (that she had in her purse) and it wasn’t her brother who killed her office mean girls. It was her.
As she tries to commit suicide over the grief of realisation, she is found by neighbourhood kids and Barrett appears in the doorway.

Nell blames the cut on the serial killer who was terrorising the neighbourhood and is relieved to know that she and her brother will never ever be apart as he is a part of her, in her delusional mind, he is there.

5/5