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Author: Alexis Schaitkin
ISBN: 978-1-5290-1427-3
Copy courtesy of Pan Macmillan

Saint X is the debut novel of Alexis Schaitkin and is based on the mythical island of Saint X in the Caribbean where 18-year-old Alison Thomas, her seven-year-old sister Claire and their parents have gone for their annual week-long holiday in 1995 to escape winter back home in the USA.

The book begins “with an aerial view” as we focus down through the clouds first to the archipelago, then to the individual islands and their topography and then down to the island of Saint X.  Zooming in further we focus in on the Resort Indigo Bay, families, honeymooners, retirees laying around on the beach. Zooming in yet again we focus on a young woman, idly walking down the sand to where her family lies, this is Alison, a young woman looking for excitement, danger, something to make meaning of her ordinary, boring, rich suburban life. 

Her little sister, Claire, Clairey to her family, adores and idolises Alison as can happen with such a significant age gap between sisters. Where Alison is beautiful, poised, confident, Claire is unusual looking, lacking in confidence and self-esteem, their parents are like cardboard cutouts, referred to by Schaitken as “the mother”, “the father”. Other characters also have an ethereal appearance referred to by an identifying characteristic, the man in the pink dolphin print swim trunks, the blonde boy, the actor etc. except for the tales other two protagonists, Edwin and Clive (aka Gogo), the skinny one and the fat one, who work at the resort.

When Alison goes missing, and her body is subsequently found submerged at the waterfall at Faraway Cay an investigation is launched. Although Edwin and Clive (or possibly the blonde boy) are suspected of being involved in Alison’s disappearance and subsequent death there is not sufficient evidence to charge anybody and the case is closed.

One of those unusual aspects of Schatikin’s writing is that at the end of each chapter there are a couple of pages in bold font which give a viewpoint of someone associated with Alison, the resort or the investigation which gives us little snippets into the bigger picture.

We are then given an insight into Claire, her childhood, her need to write words in the air, the events relating to Alison’s disappearance and finding of her body and the aftermath from the eyes of a child.  When her parents sell the family home and move across the country Claire decides that she will no longer be Claire but will go by her middle name, Emily.

As a young woman, a chance taxi ride brings Emily back into contact with Clive from Saint X.  This triggers an obsession to find out who her sister Alison was, and what happened to her, an obsession that will take over her life as she struggles to reconcile the sister she thought she knew with the girl she discovers.

Along the way, we get insights into Edwin and Clive’s upbringing and relationship, and the events that turn them into who they are and what they become.

In addition to providing a well written and insightful (if at times overly descriptive) fictional “true crime” novel, Schaitkin also beautifully represents the experiences of those inhabitants of Islands in the Caribbean etc. as they negotiate the change to their homeland with the influx of expensive Tourist Resorts catering to those much wealthier than they are and the positive and negatives of those experiences. 

This is a richly atmospheric book and well worth reading, however, I admit to finding it hard to read and I was only able to do so in short bursts. I found Schaitkin’s writing style to be very different, unusual and, at times, disconcerting. I remain undecided as to whether I enjoyed it or not, something of a dilemma for me as I am usually clear as to how a book leaves me feeling.  I will be interested to see how other Beauty and Lace readers found it.

My thanks Pan MacMillan and Beauty and Lace bookclub for the opportunity to read and review Saint X.

A selection of our Beauty and Lace Club Members are reading Saint X by Alexis Schaitkin. You can read their comments below, or add your own review.

11 thoughts on “BOOK CLUB: Saint X

  1. After reviewing Saint X the impressive debut novel of Alexis Schaitkin, I don’t think I’ll ever look at tropical island resort holidays the same way ever again. This story starts with the Thomas family holidaying at an Island resort in the Caribbean, on the last night of their stay Alison their oldest daughter goes missing, Alison’s body turns up several days later on a cay, only a few hundred yards off the coast. Setting off on the plane flying home to America a week after Alison’s body was found, Claire only seven at the time realises life as she knew it will never be the same again, everything has changed.

    Resort staff employee’s Edwin (the skinny one) and Clive (Gogo, the fat one) the two men suspected of Alison’s murder, are close childhood friends. Edwin mixes well with the guests and is quite funny, whilst Gogo is the quieter of the two and clumsy and a bit awkward. Alison befriends the men and meets them after their shifts end in the resort parking lot and heads off to the local bar “Paulette’s Place” together with them in their little eggplant-coloured Vauxhall Astra. Allison an outgoing friendly teen also strings along ‘Connecticut’ the young cello player in the Yale Symphony Orchestra.

    Weaving timelines between January 1996 when Alison disappeared to 2014 where Claire (now Emily) and Clive’s lives intersect, leading us on a cat and mouse game through the streets of New York City. I loved exploring Clive’s back story, having been raised by his grandmother and meeting Edwin and Edwin giving Clive his nickname on his first day of school. I loved the Caribbean dialect, the Faraway folklore and Sara the mother of Clive’s baby son Bryan’s complicated relationship with Clive.

    Thanks, so much Beauty and Lace and Picador, I really enjoyed the opportunity to provide an open and honest review of ‘Saint X’ this story will stay with me long after I finished the last page, and I really look forward to reading Alexis’s next book.

  2. I was really looking forward to reading this book, but I must confess I felt really let down. I found the book difficult to read. It started off talking about the characters in a weird way and then there were also a few very unusual words thrown in every now and then which made me put the book down so I could find out what they meant. I think I’ve got pretty good vocabulary skills but I’d never heard of these words before. I thought it would be a story about Emily investigating the death of her sister to find out ‘the truth’, but she didn’t really do much investigating at all and was just told ‘what happened’ by someone.

  3. Thank you so much Beauty and Lace and Pan Macmillan for the opportunity to review Saint X.
    I was very impressed from the start with the way Alexis really described the location well and I was able to really picture it all before my eyes in a way.
    I also liked the way Alexis described the characters so once again I could picture them.
    I love a good suspense thriller so this really was a great read.
    Alison goes missing during a family holiday and the book takes us through that until Alisons body is found.
    Alisons parents and her little sister Claire fly home and no one is found guilty of Alisons murder. Life as little Claire-y is never the same. This happens in 1996.
    We go to 2014 where Claire is now all grown up and in New York when her life intersects with Clive who had been an employee at the resort they stayed at back in 96.
    We learn more about Clive and Alison wants to know what really happened so ends up trying to find out herself what really happened to her sister.
    I won’t give away the ending but I found that Alexis really tied the book up well and made it a real joyride for me personally.
    I would definitely read another novel from Alexis when she writes one.
    I highly recommend for those who like suspense.

  4. I was eager to get my head into a book for a while when I received Saint X which I was excited about.
    It started off as a very slow burn for me but got better as this mystery went along despite the long descriptive passages.
    I really enjoyed the book for its unique story and not being predictable for me, held me to the end.
    Claire’s obsession with finding out the truth was page turning even if I didn’t like the truth or to me it wasn’t how I’d ever guessed it would be.
    Credits to the writer because I had to research words like ‘sket’ so I learnt something new.
    Thankyou for something different to my usual and my advice if you read this book is to hang in there as you’ll want to race to the end.

  5. starting quite slow, it didn’t seem to flow well. Once you get passed the “awkward stage” it was very well written and I read it very quickly. It definitely shows that the people you think you know can be a total surprise and the mysterious disappearance on a tropical island of a young girl who was the apple of their parents eyes,
    Thankyou beauty and lace for another great read!!!

  6. Thank you Beauty & Lace for the opportunity to read ‘Saint X’ by Alexis Schaitkin.

    I found this book to be a slow burn at the beginning, but it did help the reader be able to ‘visualise’ and imagine the scenes and characters through great descriptions. The Author even goes as far as providing certain characters with a Caribbean dialect, which I quite liked as it added to the authenticity of them.

    After the slow beginning , and without giving too much away, I did start to enjoy the book once the main character Claire, arrived in New York City and began to pursue the truth behind her sister’s alleged homicide. The back story to Clive (Gogo) one of the men originally accused of murdering Claire’s Sister Alison kept me reading to the end with a lot more enthusiasm than the beginning. I do like that this book is written in a part ‘true crime’ part thriller way with the Author’s unique style of writing.

    It was a great read in the end and I’m excited for future books from this new Author.

  7. Alexis Schaitkin’s Saint X is an intriguing and refreshingly different murder mystery set between the Caribbean in the late 90s and 2014 New York. The reader is introduced to the life of local residents staffing fancy resorts on idyllic tropical islands as well as the neighbourhoods of ex-patriots in New York, both fascinating for this armchair travel addict.

    The unique style of this book I found compelling and it kept me engaged throughout. I found the process of Emily/Clairey trying to discover the truth and somehow resolve her hazy childhood recollections into an adult understanding of events very interesting, very effectively illustrating both how who we are colours our perceptions of the world and how our experiences mould who we become.

    This is a thought-provoking book with themes of wealth, poverty, power, sex, exploitation and authenticity. Thanks so much to Beauty and Lace for the opportunity to read and review Alexis Schaitkin’s Saint X.

  8. I enjoy reading a wide range of genres and writing styles but I found Saint X by Alexis Schaitkin really hard going. The plot was great and I love a good suspense but it was very drawn out and the direction of the book didn’t hold my interest. This one took me a long time to read, which is unusual for me, and I had to work to stay at it. There were sections that were really enjoyable but I just think Schaitkin’s style on this occasion wasn’t for me and unfortunately I didn’t enjoy this read.

  9. Little did they know when they arrived at their tropical paradise nothing would be the same. Young Claire watched as her sister flirted and toyed with those around her, using all her young wiles and magnetism. Their parents too busy zoning out.
    When she vanishes during the night Claire wonders where her sister went, but this becomes more of an issue when in the morning she hasnt returned.
    3 days before her body is found, many years before Claire really looks to address this. It becomes her desire, passion, obsession after getting into a cab with the guy who was accused of killing her sister.
    Toying with danger, trips into a past she never understood and may never understand. Can she find the answer, solve the problem, survive the past.
    So very much detail was written into the first chapters which i did not understand until further on. The penny dropping helped me appreciate Alexis’s writing style.
    Thanks for giving me the chance to read this involved and challenging book.

  10. Really enjoyed Saint X! Like many of the other readers, I found it hard going – I felt many of the descriptions were too in-depth ie the author would begin a description and go on a little tangent and then somewhere else and I started to forget where the whole thing actually started!
    Otherwise it was definitely a good thriller in my eyes. I enjoyed how we got little glimpses into other people’s lives and thought (islanders and holidayers) on what happened, and I looked forward to picking up the book (although I could only read a little at a time as it was heavy going).
    Claire’s obsession with Clive was a bit dark, but understandable I guess knowing how much she wanted answers, although she was prepared still to decide herself how everything went.
    A good read, would recommend, but definitely slow going.

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