SUSAN SVENDSEN HAS AN UNUSUAL TALENT. She is an expert in other people’s secrets. People feel compelled to confide in her, and they unwittingly confess their innermost thoughts. Her whole life, she has exploited this talent, but now her family is in jeopardy and there is a prison sentence hanging over her head.
Then Susan gets a timely offer from a former government official: to use her power one more time and have all charges dropped. To get her life back in order, she must track down the last surviving members of a secret think tank, the Future Committee, and find out the details in this committee’s mysterious final report. But there are some powerful people determined that the report is never revealed.
Worldbuilding: Though the story begins in India, the main setting is Denmark. In a way, the story goes from the colorful vacation the Svensden family had in India to the bleak consequences of their fun times. I really loved the sharp focus on settings as events unfolded.
Characters: Susan is a strange beast I can’t comfortably fit in any category. She’s predator and prey at the same time. There’s a resilience and hopelessness about her that I resonated with on a horribly deep level. There were many traits of her personality that I strongly disliked, but she was an authentic human being who had means at her disposal and – like most human beings – chose to use them in her interest as much and as often as possible. At times she seemed distant, almost lacking empathy, and then at times she came through as intensely loving and loyal (mostly to her kids). Evoking the Effect, she gets a lot of information from those around, and she never truly becomes free of the weight of knowing all that. The sharpness of sight it gave her was crushingly realistic, bleak, and fascinating – like most monstrous things are. I loved Susan because she felt real and terribly human in all ways I admire and despise about human beings by and large. I related to her more than was comfortable at times.
Her husband, kids, and mother came through much in the same light as Susan, though the star of the show is her. Peter Høeg is obviously a genius when it comes to building twisted, layered, complex characters.
Plot: The story is an intriguing mix of psychological thriller, drama, scientific approach, mystery, and supernatural (not paranormal imo, because we’re talking about human beings with mental powers, not truly out of the normal kind of beings). The pace of events isn’t terrible fast, but they come through as more poignant also because of that pace. The mystery of the Future Commission was intriguing and exciting, as was their race to find things out, but somewhere around the middle of the novel I felt like the story was dragging a bit and I was less into the whole conspiracy thing than the chase of the first half or so of the novel.
Writing: First person, present tense narrative, Susan’s POV. The timeline is a bit annoying to me personally, since we get quite a bit of flashbacks as the present timeline goes on – and I don’t much like flashbacks. But I did really like the writing style here: it’s sharp and expressive. I adored Susan’s voice and dry sense of humor.
Curb Appeal: Cool cover, hooking blurb – impulsive buy material for my psychological thriller cravings.
I recommend The Susan Effect to fans of stark views on human nature via an unbiased, somewhat emotionally detached view, to fans of intelligent works about intelligent people and their darker side.