Loose Lips by Claire Berlinksi (Random House), 255 pages, $32.75 cloth. Rating: N Rating: N
I picked up loose lips based on the positive buzz it was generating. But the only thing about Claire Berlinski's first novel that merits attention is the huge advertising budget Random House threw behind it. There's some potential here. How often do we get a woman's perspective on what it's like inside the CIA? Who doesn't enjoy a good female spy story? With movies and shows featuring kick-ass babes like Alias and Charlie's Angels, the market's more than ready for a book like this.
Random House is obviously fully aware of its potential mass appeal and sure milks it. One glance at the cover tells you it features a sexy killer. Pink kiss marks are scattered across the CIA's official stamp, and the words look like they're written in lipstick scrawled on a mirror.
Berlinski's background is in international relations, both through academia and journalism. It shows. The author makes the common first novelist's mistake of telling instead of showing. Everything is spelled out and predictable. The reader has no autonomy to interpret plot twists.
The writing style is the opposite of flowery, and as a result the book reads like a dull report.
It's really hard to build suspense when you've bound and gagged the reader's imagination from page one. The description of main character Selena's indoctrination process is so banal and bureaucratic that it barely feels like fiction. Her love affair is central yet it's alluring for about two seconds. He's fat and secretive. She's attractive and clueless. The whole thing quickly dissolves into gender-role clichés. Yawn.
The solitary insight evident in Loose Lips is that the CIA is staffed by close-minded, bumbling fools. Make that boring, patriotic, close-minded, bumbling fools.
What a stinker.
Write Books at email@example.com