The cover of the book includes the quote, ‘A compelling whydunnit’ and I would agree. Its opening line is, ‘I expected more of a reaction the first time I hit her.’ It’s a clever start to a novel, and one which whisks the reader straight into the heart of the plot, but it is also a challenging one as the suspense has to be created through the ‘unravelling’ of why Oliver did what he did to his wife, Alice, and what his attitude is to his actions.
I found Unravelling Oliver extremely interesting. Chapters are told from the point of view of a number of different characters and all in the first person. We start with Oliver, then Barney (who had been Alice’s boyfriend). I loved Barney. His voice is so distinctive and he genuinely adores Alice and her brother, Eugene. Then we hear from other people who knew Oliver. There is Michael, whose sister, Laura, went out with Oliver at university. It is on a working holiday in Bordeaux which Oliver, Laura and Michael go on where things start to ‘unravel’ for Oliver, and one event leads relentlessly to another.
As the reader learns about Oliver’s upbringing, his developmental trajectory and behaviour are explained. This raises interesting questions about nature and nurture, as it is fascinating to consider whether Oliver was always going to be a psychopath and a liar or whether it took his developmental experiences for this to happen. I found it hard not to dislike Oliver, especially given the book’s opening, and I felt very sad for Laura and Alice. The characters the reader hears from are well portrayed and distinct, and given the multiple viewpoints, I was pleased the chapters were of sufficient length to ‘get into’ each of the characters and what they had to contribute.
As I was reading I did find myself wondering how the book was going to end, and turning over options in my mind. For me, the main pleasures of this book were the writing and the psychology. The author had a clever, unusual turn of phrase, including some lovely Irish expressions, and some of the descriptions and dialogue were wonderful. I adore books which have ‘choice’ as a theme, and which raise the question of how much we have as humans. Why do we each make the choices we do? Why did Barney let Oliver take Alice from him, and why did Alice leave nice, adoring Barney for Oliver? Were those decisions pre-determined, and if so, what by? Or did they choose them? In this regard, I thought the title was clever. Was Oliver always going to unravel or is the reader unravelling him?
If I have one criticism of the novel, it is that, for me, the narrative lacked suspense and jeopardy – but I wonder if this comes partly from the book starting with the reader knowing who the baddie is. The only real questions on the table are why Oliver is the way he is and what happens to him. However, the author may have wanted the book to be like this, and that is fair enough. Unravelling Oliver is still extremely interesting and well written.
My copy of the book was bought and read on kindle.
Vicky Newham © 2015