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the flight attendant

11 june 2022

Of course I haven't seen The Flight Attendant. I watch a lot of TV, but there is so much more produced than I can possibly watch that I end up hearing about a fair amount of TV (film too) and if there's a book, reading that instead.

Chris Bohjalian's 2018 novel starts from a snappy premise that even the vaguest hearing-about will have provided (and it's revealed on page 8, in any case). A flight attendant wakes up next to a dead body. In a hotel room. In Dubai. And she can't remember how the dead body got there.

Ten pages later, you learn that Cassie Bowden did not kill her bedfellow. So that's not a spoiler either. But she really can't remember if she did or not. It wouldn't have been like her, but when you're that drunk, who knows.

Why didn't the real assassin kill Cassie too? This question bothers several characters, including the real assassin, who is eventually charged with rectifying that omission. For about 300 pages, though, Cassie goes from quandary to quandary as the FBI, the killers, a stranger in a ballcap, and the media all start to close in on her. It's a fun potboiler if maybe 50-75 pages too long.

The Flight Attendant is not really padded; the action is focused. It over-elaborates on the background and motives of its killer (a Russian woman named Elena), and this material is both skippable and pretty dated just four years later. Much of it involves the antics of Russian oligarchs and the mercurial behavior of a coyly-unnamed Russian President, stuff that does not seem so cartoonishly diverting anymore.

The whole book also takes on the structure of a temperance novel. Cassie wouldn't be in her bizarre predicament if she didn't have a tendency to casual sex while blackout drunk. All her problems stem from her addiction, which is ferocious but (in the novel's epilogue) seems easy to overcome. For a suspenser with mostly female characters, The Flight Attendant oddly immures its women all the more securely in the mother/slut dichotomy.

Bohjalian, Chris. The Flight Attendant. 2018. New York: Vintage [Penguin Random House], 2019. PS 3552 .O495 F58