Pretty Things by Janelle Brown was published in April 2020 by Penguin Random House.
It’s a brilliantly written novel that sits in both the crime and suspense categories. To my mind, you can have a suspense novel without crime, but you can’t have a crime novel without suspense.
Pretty Things by Janelle Brown
Reviews For Pretty Things
This novel is a recent publication, but has already garnered over 7000 ratings on Goodreads and outstanding reviews from critics.
Here’s a sample:
‘Pretty Things is awesome. Simple as that. I loved every page.’ (Crime author Harlan Coben)
‘Impossible to put down, Pretty Things is smart, seductive, and utterly captivating.' (PopSugar)
‘Full of tantalizing twists and shocking deceptions, this is an intelligent social commentary that is also deliciously fun to read.’ (The Week)
‘Fiendishly clever.’ (Kirkus Reviews)
Pretty Things Synopsis
Two wildly different women – Nina, a con artist and Vanessa, a self-absorbed heiress – are brought together when Nina and her boyfriend Lachlan carry out the scam of a lifetime.
Nina learned from the best – her mother is a scammer, the only way she knows to try and give her daughter the best life she can.
When she becomes ill, Nina pulls out all stops to get the money for her treatment, planning her most daring swindle yet.
Vanessa is a privileged rich kid whose life is lived on social media.
An Instagram influencer, she leads a life of travelling, modelling and hobnobbing with the glitterati.
But underneath the façade her life is marked by tragedy.
After a broken engagement she retreats to the mansion on her family estate on the shores of Lake Tahoe in California.
Janelle Brown's Writing Style
Brown’s writing style is flowing and easy to read. She does description well – succinct, with perfect cadence.
For example, the first line of the book:
‘The nightclub is a temple, devoted to the sacred worship of indulgence.’
And later, as Nina is driving into Tahoe:
‘Those lights, the way they dance like spirits in the wind-tossed trees. The mist, the way it reflects diamonds in our headlights. Something magical is here in this grove; all the possibility of my past youth gathering here again, feelings I’d along ago forgotten.’
The story is written from the alternating points of view of Nina and Vanessa, a few chapters of each before switching, which is an effective way of allowing you to get inside their skin.There are two exceptions – the opening chapter and the climax of the story are written in third person omniscient, which gives you an objective, bird’s eye view of the most important parts of the story.
Although some readers may find it jarring, in my opinion it works well
Each of the narrators, Nina and Vanessa, has a very distinctive voice. Vanessa’s voice is exactly the same as her over the top social media posts:
‘I'm as wired as a teenager on Ritalin, wound up by the prospect of human interaction (Giddy!, Practically bouyant!).’
But there are dark undertones:
‘How many times have I stood and chirped giddily at the camera, flipping my hair around like I’m in front of an industrial fan and grinning like a circus emcee, when inside all I wanted to do was drink a bottle of Drano?’
Nina has a more cynical tone of voice, often verging on bitter. This is how she sees Vanessa:
‘Her squeal of faux excitement makes me cringe. Good grief, I think, nothing about this woman is sincere.’
And the fact that the differences in their upbringing come down to circumstances of birth is a constant aggravation:
‘For most people not born into privilege, the playing field is a steep incline and you are at the bottom with boulders tied to your ankles.’
But to offset her cynicism, Nina has a pithy sense of humour.
Referring to Lachlan:
‘I’m surprised the treacle in his voice isn’t sending Vanessa into diabetic shock.’
Referring to Vanessa’s mother:
‘I felt like roadkill in her gaze, frozen in place, somehow compelled to stand there forever until she ran over me entirely.’
When you see each character through the other’s eyes, they’re not flattering. But Brown is excellent at fostering empathy.
Once you switch to the other’s point of view, you’re privy to their frailties and vulnerabilities and can understand why they act the way they do.
It becomes apparent as the story progresses that although their lives are very disparate, Nina and Vanessa have much in common.
They both suffer from feelings of inadequacy and are holding on to hurt and grief they’ve never come to terms with.
The plot keeps you engrossed with its many twists and turns, not so much from the action as from the psychology of the characters. It’s a story of secrets and lies and shocking revelations.It’s also an excellent satire on social media and how it distorts reality, as seen through Nina’s eyes.
‘It’s easiest to judge from a distance. That’s why the internet has turned us all into armchair critics, experts at the cold dissection of gesture and syllable, sneering self-righteously from the safety of our screens.’
‘On social media it's all or nothing: lavish praise or appalled outrage; sycophants or trolls. Caption-and-comment culture in all its brevity leaves out the middle ground, where most of life is found.’
About Author Janelle Brown
Brown was born in 1973 in Palo Alto, California.
‘I’ve known I wanted to be a novelist ever since first grade,’ she says. This was when she started writing and making her own books.
However, as often happens with authors, she took the circuitous route. After graduating from the University of California, Berkely, she became an essayist and journalist for a number of prestigious publications before publishing her first book.
Pretty Things is Brown’s fourth book. Her first book, All We Ever Wanted Was Everything, was published in 2008 and became a New York Times bestseller.
Then came This Is Where We Live, published in 2010 and Watch Me Disappear, published in 2017, also a New York Times bestseller. Her books have sold in two dozen countries around the world.
Pretty Things has been named a Best Book of 2020 by Amazon and is being adapted for TV by Nicole Kidman’s Blossom Films.Brown lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two children.
Janelle Brown Interviews
On the Amazon Book Review blog she discusses her inspiration and writing process for Pretty Things. Interview with Chris Schluep.
Photo above courtesy of Penguin Books Australia.
Janelle Brown On Youtube
Here’s an interview with Brown at the Schaumburg Library in Illinois about Pretty Things.
Pretty Things Review Conclusion
If you enjoy twisty psychological plots and complex, unpredictable characters with an undertone of satire, you’ll love this book.Brown is currently writing her fifth novel, which I look forward to reading. Meanwhile I’m going to catch up on her previous books.