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Friend from hell


Beautiful Malice By Rebecca James Faber and Faber 353 pages, Rs 350

You've seen the movies. Now read the book. After all, anyone who's met those stalking, rabbit-boiling, anonymous-letter-sending crazies from films like Fatal Attraction and The Hand that Rocks the Cradle is on familiar territory. For gorgeous, golden-haired Alice Parrie - with her dazzling charm and scorching rages - fits right in with these SWF celluloid psychos.

Alice is the best-friend-from-hell in Beautiful Malice, a new thriller from down under. Hailed as "the most talked about debut of the season", this Australian novel is an unabashed potboiler. The characters have few nuances, the writing is bland and the tone is utterly humourless. The most creative line in the book is - I kid you not - "It was like Queen Elizabeth suddenly threatening to punch Saddam Hussein on the nose. "

So it's almost a relief that the writer decides to stick to the downright banal. Take, for example: "Yum, " she says kissing the champagne bottle. "My one true love. " Or "I forget all about the night I discovered the shameful, grubby coward at the core of my soul. " Or even, "My life isn't going to be serious and boring. It's going to be fun. A party. A massive, neverending, lifelong party. "

It's almost as if James has written the book purely with an eye on movie rights, which might well work out. For if you forget about language and style, Beautiful Malice does its job pretty efficiently. It tells a suspenseful story, delivers the necessary twists and punches, and even manages to entertain. At the centre of the story is Katherine Patterson, a new girl at Drummond High School in Sydney. Haunted by the terrible murder of her younger sister, she remains aloof from her classmates and is careful not to reveal her soul-destroying secret. So she is startled and flattered when popular, wealthy Alice attempts to befriend her, and soon the teenagers are inseparable.

The first few months of the friendship are magical. But it gradually becomes apparent that behind Alice's bubbly façade is a manipulative and self-centered person - someone who will resort to lies and viciousness to get what she wants. After several misadventures, Katherine decides to break off this increasingly dangerous friendship, only to find that it's not so easy to get rid of Alice.

The book has its creepy moments and share of surprises. It's also about as mentally taxing as a Teletubbies video.

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