I’m a sucker for any thriller I can find on the shelves. Really it’s become quite a problem because I’ve read so many that I can pretty much always tell what’s going to happen. With thrillers, I think it can be difficult not to write in to what’s already been done. The formula is usually compiled of a dysfunctional relationship, a violent attack, an annoying police officer called DI something, who lingers throughout the narrative doing not a lot of anything other than acting as the catalyst for the protagonist’s catharsis and an ending that isn’t quite a resolution, but answers the main question of who committed what crime and why.
I was drawn to this particular thriller precisely because it didn’t seem to simply be about a broken marriage gone horrifically wrong. At it’s core, this is a novel about family. Most importantly, about how we grow up with parents we think we know better than anybody, but we probably don’t know that much about at all. Of course they tell us stories about what their lives were like before us. But whose to say they haven’t omitted parts? And why should they worry that we’ll ever find out about them because, unless they tell us themselves, it’s unlikely that we would ever know anything different to the versions of themselves they’ve chosen to present to us. This is the same for everybody we meet in our lives. Only, we don’t have the same expectations of everyone else as we do of our parents, do we?
The secrets you discover in this novel are wild. I started reading this while I was on the plane to Oslo and you’re thrown pretty quickly into the drama. Sophia, the novel’s main character, is out at a bar trying to hook up with her boss, when she gets a call from her mum Nina. She gets these calls so often that she’s very dismissive with her on the phone, even when her mum asks her to come home. When she does return home the following morning, she finds her mum hanging from a tree in their back garden and her dad severely injured in a pool of blood on the ground next to her. Crazy.
Crazier than you’re expecting it to be when you discover that Nina was in the middle of writing a memoir about her experience as a university student. The novel flicks between Nina’s voice and Sophia’s, but on the whole, they’re not really that distinct. They do blend into each other a little, the only difference being that Nina’s voce is saturated with this mounting regret for having not revealed all of this to her daughter sooner. And of course, for being involved in what she was in the first place.
We probably all have some experience of getting mixed up in the wrong crowd, even if only briefly. Well to say that Nina got in with the wrong crowd would be a colossal understatement. A term later, she’s attended zero classes, hasn’t been staying in her university halls and is fleeing from a murder scene with nowhere to go. It’s all very carefully thought out and the timeline works brilliantly. The plot of this one is so good that I really don’t want to spoil it by saying any more than that. All I can say is that it’s definitely not the kind of stuff you could imagine.
Which is why I’m convinced that Helen Callaghan can’t have been writing purely from her imagination. Something similar must have been experienced by either her or somebody close to her. It really is confounding to me that someone could imagine the things in this book. Some of it is just plain weird and the rest is too traumatising to have come from nowhere.
That being said, I really think this is worth a read. It’s not predictable at all and it’s one of those books that you’ll be dying to pick up at any spare moment you have. The writing is original – no overused similes, no clichés and some really great figurative language. It’s well paced too. There’s just enough going on in each chapter to make you want to read more without getting bored. Something I hate in a book is really long chapters. I like to be able to pace myself, take a break, come back for more. You can do that with this because the story seems to come to a natural break as soon as you want to.
The only thing I can find to complain about is the ending. I talked earlier about thriller novels coming to a not quite resolved ending. With this one, everything is resolved, which I appreciated. There was too much going on for it not to all have a resolution I think. I would only say that it felt a little too systematic.
My main problem is with the final couple of chapters really. In them, we’re several months into the future and Sophia is on holiday, reflecting on everything that’s happened. The final chapter then takes us back to the murder of Sophia’s mother. I feel that both of these chapters could have been omitted entirely. Had we ended on the final word of Nina’s memoir, it would have felt like she had finally been given the voice she was desperately looking for throughout the whole novel. I think that could have been a tribute to her character in a way.
When I think of the final chapter detailing her death, it just doesn’t quite work. We know the story from Sophia’s point of view and from Nina’s. But with Nina dead and Sophia having never been there for the murder, we shouldn’t get to know exactly what happened. We flick to the third person, giving us an omniscient view of the moments leading up to Nina’s murder. Although well written, I just feel that this doesn’t serve much of a purpose. I prefer when a story has an organic progression and this final chapter prevented that. Ending with Nina’s final words would have brought the story to a natural end. After all, there is no story without Nina’s memoir.
Nevertheless, I really enjoyed reading this one. The twists are the kind that you don’t expect, but kick yourself for not figuring out as you read. Which I love because that means it’s been set up well enough for you to figure out on your own but also that the author doesn’t just hand everything to you on a plate. I think this is definitely a must read!