Booking Mama Review

Monday, October 16, 2017

Review: Unraveling Oliver

Summary: In this “compelling, clever, and dark” (Heat magazine) thriller, a man’s shocking act of savagery stuns a local community—and the revelations that follow will keep you gripped until the very last page. This work of psychological suspense, a #1 bestseller in Ireland, is perfect for fans of Patricia Highsmith and Ruth Ware.

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

So begins Liz Nugent’s astonishing debut novel—a chilling, elegantly crafted, and psychologically astute exploration of the nature of evil.

Oliver Ryan, handsome, charismatic, and successful, has long been married to his devoted wife, Alice. Together they write and illustrate award-winning children’s books; their life together one of enviable privilege and ease—until, one evening after a delightful dinner, Oliver delivers a blow to Alice that renders her unconscious, and subsequently beats her into a coma.

In the aftermath of such an unthinkable event, as Alice hovers between life and death, the couple’s friends, neighbors, and acquaintances try to understand what could have driven Oliver to commit such a horrific act. As his story unfolds, layers are peeled away to reveal a life of shame, envy, deception, and masterful manipulation.

With its alternating points of view and deft prose, Unraveling Oliver is “a page-turning, one-sitting read from a brand new master of psychological suspense” (Sunday Independent) that details how an ordinary man can transform into a sociopath. — Scout Press

One of the highlights of this year’s BEA was attending the Editor’s Buzz panel. All of the books presented looked terrific, but one that definitely appealed to me was the psychological suspense novel UNRAVELING OLIVER BY Liz Nugent. This book had already been published to great critical acclaim in Ireland a few years back, and it even hit number one on the bestseller list.

UNRAVELING OLIVER begins in quite a dramatic way. Oliver has just beaten his wife Alice, seemingly out of nowhere; and she might not even live to tell her side of the story. Oliver is a handsome man who also happens to be a successful children’s author — not exactly your typical abuser. His wife is the illustrator for his  books, and by all accounts, she’s a very nice woman. What could ever have taken place that Oliver felt the need to beat Alice into a coma?

The novel begins with Oliver’s account of events, and I have to admit that I thought this novel was going to be another book by an unreliable narrator. (And you know I’m not always fond of these stories because I sometimes feel manipulated.) However, UNRAVELING OLIVER was definitely different… in a good way! Oliver did provide his story in various chapters; however, so did many other people who had encountered Oliver at some point in his life.

The true mystery of this novel isn’t what happened to Alice. Rather it’s why did Oliver snap one day and beat her? The majority of this novel is made up of stories told by individuals who knew Oliver, both from the present and his past. As these stories are revealed to the reader, it becomes apparent that Oliver has some serious baggage from his past; and it’s these past events (and the secrets surrounding them) that triggers Oliver to psycho snap on Alice.

I thoroughly enjoyed UNRAVELING OLIVER. I found it to be very well-written, and I was definitely hanging onto every word. I liked that the story was fast-paced and that it was told through the eyes of quite a few characters, and I definitely liked how the Oliver’s secrets came to light. However, there was one small thing that kind of bothered me. It takes place at the end of the novel when Alice is learning about Oliver’s past. Something happens that is just a little too convenient for me. It didn’t really affect my appreciation of the story, but it was something that seemed too easy… if that makes sense.

In summary, UNRAVELING OLIVER is a well-written and fast-paced psychological thriller. I enjoyed the surprise twists and that it was different than most suspense novels out there. Highly recommended!

I received a copy of this novel at this year’s BEA.