The French novel The Stone Boy is a curiously strange tale of psychological suspense. The premise involves an elderly woman, Madame Préau who, after a long period of convalescence, comes home to a changed neighborhood. She is pretty much alone except for a housekeeper and a son who visits her periodically and seems to be distant and untrusting. Her closest neighbor is a family with apparently three children. One of the children, an older boy, is always seen separately from the others and, to Madame Preau's eyes, appears to be neglected and bruised. But the agency that investigates child abuse tells her that no child exists.
Of course, being a novel of psychological suspense, nothing may be as it appears. The author begins her novel with a vague but important back story and we know little about our protagonist at the beginning except she is probably mentally unstable, maybe dangerously so, and not all that likable. Loubiere has a talent for giving you only what information you need at the time, an essential attribute for this type of story. This novel did not grab me at first but as I read it but I was soon unable to put it down. When I did put it down, I found myself thinking about as if I was putting together a puzzle. What does this mean? What is the reality and what is in her head? The ending, which I will not reveal of course, was worth it and, I must confess, made me slightly teary-eyes. But was it a good teary-eyed or a sad teary-eyed? You'll have to read the book to find out.
Good psychological novels, especially those that involve a person of questionable mental stability, are hard to come by. The most common problem is that often authors do not know how to made a mentally ill protagonist full-dimensional without falling into stereotypes. That is not a problem here. Madame Preau is quite real with little stereotyping and endowed with a clear and believable pattern of decompensation. In fact, I would say it is the prime reason this novel works. The novel is moved along by third person narrative and enhanced by letters and notes by Madame Preau that lets us know more about her and the workings of her mind as the story progresses.
The only weakness in the novel is an occasional feeling of awkwardness and stiffness in the narration, especially at the beginning. It's one of those things I can feel but not necessarily put my finger on. I am inclined to think that may be a problem with the translation rather than the author. But it quickly goes away as we delve deeper into the mystery.
Overall, this is one of the better psychological thrillers I have read in a while and well deserving of more attention in the English-speaking world. At the time of this writing, The Stone Boy appears to be only available as a Kindle eBook from the Hatchette Book Group.