I have been harping on about this book for months, so if you’ve not been subject to my evangelical zeal about its brilliance, allow me to quickly summarize. Everyone who knows Oliver Ryan is shocked when he beats his wife to the point of a coma. This mild-mannered children’s author who lives in a leafy (read: posh) neighborhood of Dublin is the last person any of them would suspect is capable of such a thing… or is he? With each chapter told from the PoV of a different person in Oliver’s life, Ms. Nugent slowly and expertly peels back the layers of this enigmatic man, revealing painful secrets, twisting lies, and a few revelations that take one’s breath away.
Oliver Ryan – under the pseudonym Vincent Jax – is a world famous children’s author. His tales of a young prince have taken the world by storm, spawning both movie and theater franchises; one gets the impression of intentional allusions to Harry Potter as the series is described. His quiet wife, Alice, illustrates the novels for him and appears content to live in his shadow. She was raised with a mentally handicapped brother for whom she and her mother were full-time carers. This shaped her contentment and also her fascination with Oliver. While we never get to hear her voice, we certainly get her story.
As we slowly meet people who intersected with them at different seasons, we discover the Ryans’ existence is built on carefully kept secrets. Barney, the man who loved and still loves Alice, Moya, the woman with whom Oliver had a tempestuous affair, Laura, the fellow student who died after their summer working at a French vineyard; all of these voices and so many more hold the keys to truth.
As is the case with every suspense novel, reviews are difficult. I want to entice you to read Unraveling Oliver, to let you know what kind of journey you’ll be on, while at the same time revealing nothing. I’ve read this book twice now – once following its Irish release in 2014 and once on its American from this August – and I was impressed by the craftsmanship of this mystery both times. The main mystery – how Oliver could do such a thing to his wife – is solved multiple times, for the truths of people’s pasts are rarely easily revealed. This novel won awards in Ireland – a country which adores crime and suspense novels – for a reason.
There are no trigger warnings here, but there may be some cultural bits or bobs that American readers may not be familiar with. If you run into a phrase or idea that sounds foreign, just keep reading. The reveals are universal, even if they come in Dublin accents.