Saturday, 28 January 2017

Behind Her Eyes

So, here's a book that's been exploding all over my social media since the end of last year (admittedly because I'm a friend of the author on Facebook and have mutual Twitter buddies too), but only came out this Friday (27th January). I picked up my own copy last night, started reading it on the journey home, and then ploughed through it most of today.

The hype has been all about the twist in the end, and I love a good twist in the ending (it's exactly the sort of thing I like to build into my short stories and game scenarios). The Twitter hashtag used to promote the book has been #wtfthatending - which, of course, means you pick the book up expecting things to not be exactly what they might appear from first impressions. It also means that a whole lot of the fun is in the speculation and theorising of what might be this ending that has summoned forth such swathes of WTF across the internet, but as a result it's very hard to say a great deal about what goes on beyond a certain point, or how easy or difficult it is to anticipate the ending. Here though, to get you in the mood, are a blurb or seven from the dust jacket.

"Sarah Pinborough is a literary chameleon of astonishing power and grace."
Neil Gaiman

"Lean and mean, dark and disturbing, this is the kind of novel that takes over your life."
Joe Hill

"Twisty and twisted. Jealousy, lies, betrayal, guilt, toxic, spouses, madness. They're all in here."
Adam Nevill

"Just when you think you've nailed it, Pinborough pulls the rug out from underneath you."
Sam Baker

"Fully realised characters, peerless writing, a tank of a plot that sustains the suspense right to the end, and a whammy of a finale. It takes a lot to catch me out, but this one did."
Joanne Harris

"When you close the book, with paper cuts from turning pages so fast, you'll want everyone you know to read it too so you can talk about it."
Simon Toyne

"The most unsettling thriller of the year... Read it now before someone spoils the end for you."
John Connolly

I have to be honest and say I really enjoyed it. I love getting into the heads of characters, especially when it's clear that there are mysteries to be solved and that the characters you may be spending time in the head of may be keeping secrets of their own. There was much in common with Sarah's YA book '13 Minutes', with the two female points of view throughout, though the book is also peppered with flashbacks to a third person perspective of event back 'Then'. These add context to events as we learn more from the perspective of our main protagonist Louise, as she slowly learns more about the man who has become her new boss at a clinic, David, and his reclusive wife, Adele, whose life appears to be somewhat under her husband's thumb. Developing relationships of the two independently, keeping each relationship secret from the other, we have Louise slowly unpicking at the seams of their lives, of their secretive pasts, of the reasons for the routines they've established. And then, from Adele's perspective, we see a fragile character trying to take control of her own life, though she is economic with the details of her past, only hinting of what she must do.

The story unfolds much like a dramatic thriller, focussing mostly on the contrast of the chaotic life of single-mother Louise, and the simpler, almost mechanical routine of Adele. Louise has friends she can turn to, open up to, and we see how she struggles to get on with her life as those around her, those in couples, seem to be moving on, living their more exciting lives. Adele, by contrast, has no friends until she bumps into Louise, just the routine of being housewife to David, and of going to the gym. These worlds collide, and a strong friendship develops between the two, even as they maintain secrets from each other. David is often a presence just off centre stage, and enigmatic figure - as we don't get into his head for most of the book, we never really know his motives - pretty much til the final pages.

Suffice to say, with the promise of plot twists and WTF that ending, it didn't take long before I was starting to see potential truths peeking from behind curtains all over the place, to see common interests between characters, or common phrases spoken by different characters, as hinting at something greater (and, ultimately, whilst some of these are great signposts, some of them are enticing distractions). There's a brief hint of things to come, from the opening passage of the book, which is later revealed to be a passage written in another book, a journal about dreams. And so, from my first WTF moment at the end of page 60, the story meanders through the possibilities of the twist being psychological, to fantastical, to maybe something even more than that.

I won't say any more about the story as such, but will linger briefly on the aspect of dreams. Adele reminded me, at times, of some of the darker interpretations of Alice and her Wonderland, although one of the characters in the book instead thinks of her more as a Sleeping Beauty. It was interesting to see how lucid dreaming was portrayed in the book, as the description didn't really match anything I've heard of before, and yet it falls into place nicer, and is reassuringly consistent for the purposes of driving the story forward. There's perhaps a slight jolt from going from going from darker psychological territory into talk of dreams (and, god knows, I've bored countless Facebook followers with my own dream recollections*), but it's a minor thing.

Ultimately I have to say I loved this book. Yes, there was a degree of hype that made me rush through to the end of the story, to be able to converse with like minded souls but, seriously, when the details were all revealed at the end, as the curtain was pulled back and we were exposed to the truth, I had a big grin on my face. I can't ask for much more than that from a book.

Four and a half out of five. Or nine out of ten. :-) I think I marginally preferred '13 Minutes' more, because it's more subtle and less fantastic in its execution, plus has the vibrancy of teenaged relationships, and several different perspectives throughout.

* The weirdest coincidence, upon reading this book, was finding the suggestion of dreams about Robert Downey Jr in Chapter 27. On the morning of the 27th January I wrote a Facebook post about my dream, which featured Robert Downey Jr. Another WTF moment in the book, but I don't think one the author had anticipated. :-)