Saturday, March 8, 2014


Pages: 240
Date: 07/03/2014
Grade: 4+
Details: Received from Penguin Ireland

The blurb:

“'I expected more of a reaction the first time I hit her.'

Oliver Ryan is a handsome and charismatic success story. He lives in the leafy suburbs with his wife, Alice, who illustrates his award-winning children's books and gives him her unstinting devotion. Their life together is one of enviable privilege and ease - enviable until, one evening after supper, Oliver attacks Alice and puts her into a coma.

In the aftermath, as everyone tries to make sense of his astonishing act of savagery, Oliver tells his story. So do those whose paths he has crossed over five decades. What unfolds is a story of shame, envy, breath-taking deception and masterful manipulation.

Only Oliver knows the lengths to which he has had to go to get the life to which he felt entitled. But even he is in for a shock when the past catches up with him.”


What a way to start a book:

‘I expected more of a reaction the first time I hit her.'

And it sets exactly the right tone for this book. This story is really a mystery, although not one in which we anxiously read on to find out who perpetrated the crime. No, the big question in this book is what on earth possessed Oliver to beat up his wife. The answer to that question is revealed at a slow, almost leisurely pace.

This book is told by Oliver as well as several people he has encountered during his life. Oliver tells his story after he has been arrested for putting his wife into a coma and doesn’t, at any time, try to make himself look or sound nice.

“I’m aware that I am not the easiest of people. Alice has told me so. I have no friends, for example. I used to, many years ago, but that really didn’t work out. We drifted apart and I let them go – voluntarily, I suppose. Friends are just people who remind you of your failings.”

Having said that, if you ignore the very first chapter, in which Oliver rather coolly describes how he hit his wife and his surprise at his own action and the lack of reaction on her part, there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot wrong with him.

“My wife had finally brought out the worst in me. It was most unexpected. I had always been fond of her, in my way.”

For a long time it was almost possible to feel sorry for Oliver and the life he lived before he got famous. In fact, that is probably the only thing that stopped this book from getting five stars; I fully expected to be horrified by Oliver by the time I reached the end of the book, and I wasn’t. I didn’t like him, didn’t approve of the things he’d done and couldn’t sympathize with him, but he never quite turned into the monster I was expecting him to be either. And, to be honest, I’m not sure if that is a missed opportunity on the author’s part or a very clever and balanced portrait of a socially unadjusted personality.

Having said that, this was one of the more fascinating and well plotted books I’ve read this year so far. I got completely caught up in the story and had to keep on reading in order to find out what had caused this man to turn violent. The writing in this book is very good. I was impressed with the very distinctive voices the various narrators had. For example, Veronique, the French lady, sounded distinctly French, even if her story was told in English.

Ultimately this is a story about secrets and the damage they can do, both to those who can’t find the answers they need and to those who are hurt as a result of that. This was a very impressive debut by an author I will be keeping an eye on from now on.

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