A television series based on The Flight Attendant by Chris Bohjalian is in the process of being filmed, and it will air on HBO Max. However, the production has been halted because of COVID-19. Have no fear, I have a review of the novel here, and despite some flaws, it is worth the adaptation.
I have never read anything by Chris Bohjalian up until this point. Apparently, he has authored twenty books including Midwives, The Sandcastle Girls, and Secrets of Eden. Even the ladies from the book club that I facilitate enjoy his work (I swear one of them has a crush on him). As a result, I decided that I needed to get to know this author, and I am doing so with his latest novel, The Flight Attendant.
The Flight Attendant circles around an air hostess named Cassandra (Cassie) Bowden. Cassie is a 38-year-old self-loathing binge drinker. One day, she wakes up in a Dubai hotel room that is not hers and with a man named Alex Sokolov whom she had spent the night with. It turns out that he is dead. I wish it was an April Fool’s Day prank, but alas, it is not. She tries to piece together what happened the night before, but instead of calling the police, she returns to her flight attendant duties and lies about what happened. She lies to pretty much everybody like the other flight attendants, the men whom she would have one-night stands with, and the FBI agents. Eventually, it becomes too late for her to face what actually happened.
Bohjalian wastes no time getting into the story as it literally begins with Cassie waking up and discovering Alex’s dead body right next to her. I will not lie; that immediately grabbed my attention. However, soon after, the novel becomes more slow-paced as not much happens elsewhere until the second half. I did not have much of a problem with this as the book itself focuses more on its protagonist, specifically how she attempts to clear her name.
As a result, the big selling point of this book is its main character, Cassie. Bohjalian develops her with so much backstory and insight that readers will quickly empathize with her. This is especially true when it is revealed that Cassie’s father was an alcoholic and that he had caused a lot of heartache and burden in her family. She vowed not to drink until she had some alcohol at age 23. Right then, she realized how it could smooth out her rough edges and even make her look prettier. She struggles with her self-esteem and who exactly she wants to be. At the same time, Cassie is so flawed that readers will also be testing their patience with how much sympathy they can express towards her, especially as she continues to lie and dig herself into a deeper hole. I can see why Kaley Cuoco from The Big Bang Theory wanted to adapt this book into a limited series and star in it: https://www.bleedingcool.com/2017/10/28/big-bang-kaley-cuoco-flight-attendant/
If there is one complaint that I had with this novel, it would be the ending. I will not spoil it. All I will say are two things: 1. Even though part of it effectively surprised me, parts of it left me confused to the point that I had to ponder the logistics and if that was even discussed earlier. 2. I also think that it was rushed and contrived to a certain degree. I have a feeling that this is the reason why Bohjalian fans say that this book is not one of his best, but still good regardless.
I listened to the audiobook, which contains three narrators: Erin Spencer, Grace Experience, and Mark Deakins. Spencer is an actress known from shows like Prison Break, True Detective, and the Broadway tour of Chicago; she voices Cassie. She does a great job of handling Cassie’s character, whether she is professional, self-loathing, or downright scared, as well as other characters like Cassie’s teetotaler sister Rosemary and Cassie’s lawyer Ani. Experience is an audiobook narrator, who has previously recorded many of Bohjalian’s novels because she is his daughter! Nevertheless, in this book, she effectively voices the missing woman, who was in the same room as Cassie and Alex the night that he died, with competence and doubt at the same time. Deakins – known for his appearances on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Star Trek: Voyager – reads the FBI transcripts with a nice mixture of neutrality and formality without spoiling anything.
The Flight Attendant is an interesting read, yet it may not be for everybody. Some readers might get bored with its slowness, and others might bark at its ending. But, if readers are interested in deeply flawed characters and how they deal with literally life or death situations, they will be pleased. Although it may not in my top 10, it is certainly a book that I will not forget.
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