Rebecca Makkai’s third novel, I Have Some Questions for You, has been hotly anticipated. Following in the wake of the critically acclaimed The Believers — a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction — the American novelist has proven herself to be a thoughtful storyteller capable of delivering heavyweight ideas with a light touch.
In this campus murder mystery, the reader is fully immersed in a New Hampshire boarding school in the present day. The narrator, Bodie Kane, is a successful podcaster and professor who has returned to her former school to teach a podcasting class. Her students decide to investigate the murder of one of Bodie’s class-mates that occurred during her final year there and she is inexorably drawn into a prolonged confrontation with her past, and inevitably her present.
This novel is less about solving the crime and so much more about solving the bigger questions that dominate our lives
Those who became engrossed in the Serial podcast about the incarceration of Adnan Syed following the murder of American high school student Hae Min Lee will recognise echoes of that phenomenon in this narrative. In today’s society, where in Ireland alone we were horrified by the brutal killing of 15 of our women in 2022, there are a lot of questions to be asked about why these murders happen, how they are investigated and, significantly, how they are reported.
These meditations are the thrumming heartbeat of Makkai’s novel. Yes, there is a murder mystery plot to be resolved, but this is not a conventional thriller. First of all, the revelation is entirely predictable. Second, that is the point. This novel is less about solving the crime and so much more about solving the bigger questions that dominate our lives.
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The framing of the narrative is somewhat awkward — Bodie is speaking broadly to a past teacher throughout, but the scenes themselves aren’t written in an authentic way to support that device. This is a small irritation, though, in a novel that otherwise feels very controlled. In the first section, which constitutes two-thirds of the novel, the pace lags at times and begins to feel repetitious, but it is worth enduring for the tightening of the strings in the last section.
This novel is suspenseful, but not primarily because of the murder mystery being untangled. The intrigue instead emerges as we witness Bodie attempting to solve the puzzle of herself, and this provokes the reader to ask questions of themselves. The result is a novel that is quietly riveting, the big reveal being something so much more personal.