Unravelling Oliver / Blogger Reviews

Sara’s Pick: Unraveling Oliver by Liz Nugent


A celebrated author of children’s books flies into a rage after dinner on night and beats his illustrator-wife almost to death. In the aftermath, he and others in his life explain how he came to this point. There is plenty of tragedy to go around starting with his father and continuing through Oliver. As the important people in his life share what they know about him, with Oliver filling in some of the events that scarred him, a portrait of a sad and depressing childhood and a life changing summer in France knit the strands of his life together. A look into how a psychopath might become that way.


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.

Desert Isle Keeper

Unraveling Oliver

Liz Nugent

Unraveling_OliverI 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.


(e)Book Nerd

(e)Book Nerd

I wasn’t sure what to think about it from the description, but by the time I was three chapters or so in, I was hooked. At its core, “Unraveling Oliver,” is a drama about love, loss and identity – and along the way, we travel from the streets of Dublin to the vineyards of France and sub-Saharan Africa.

The book technically takes place after a well-respected author, Oliver Ryan, beats his loving wife, Alice, into a coma. It’s the first act of violence in the family, which had seemed so perfect and ideal. As they struggle to come to terms with the violent crime, the people surrounding Oliver weave a tale which finally reveals the truth about Oliver and what lead him to his final, gruesome act.

While the novel takes place in the present day, much of it deals with the history of the characters and reveals the details of their lives with Oliver. I was so drawn into their stories that I couldn’t wait to see why as coming next. There were some hints about the final big reveal, but I didn’t guess it totally. And I loved it – it wrapped up all the storylines perfectly in a way that was believable and satisfying.

Another thing I liked about the book was that it’s complicated. It’s not 100 percent straightforward and black and white – there’s a lot to consider about Oliver and how he became what he did. I like a good book that makes you think, even to the last page where the reveals keep on coming.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves a good, well-written story. I was totally engrossed and wish there was even more of it to enjoy!

Do yourself a favor and buy this book.



UNRAVELING OLIVER was published in 2014 in debut author Liz Nugent’s native Ireland, but is only now appearing in the United States. The reputation of both Nugent and the book precede them, given that her work was named “Crime Novel of the Year” by the Irish Book Awards. This is understandable, and the level of those accolades should almost certainly be attained here as well. One senses from the first words that the book is a winner, and it gradually becomes clear just how striking it is. It puts a new spin on the concept of the unreliable narrator while tinkering with the basic foundation of the contemporary novel, all with grand purpose and even greater results.

It is understandable if, from the first page, Oliver Ryan puts the reader in the mind of Patricia Highsmith’s Tom Ripley. Indeed, Oliver gets the chance to make a first impression before anyone else, and doesn’t make the most of that or subsequent opportunities. While other characters are given their own chapters to narrate their versions of encounters and histories with Oliver, it is Oliver who does himself the most damage. One would reflexively reach for the term “clueless” in describing him, but it goes much deeper than that. He has no insight at all, a personality factor that in Nugent’s extremely talented hands implicitly yields even more information.

“One senses from the first words that the book is a winner, and it gradually becomes clear just how striking it is. It puts a new spin on the concept of the unreliable narrator while tinkering with the basic foundation of the contemporary novel, all with grand purpose and even greater results.”

Each chapter is narrated in the first person but by a different character. Some are told by Oliver himself. He begins by describing a brutal attack upon his wife, Alice. We don’t learn what precipitated this — at least not immediately — but what is revealed is that Oliver is a very successful author of children’s books under the name “Vincent Dax” and Alice illustrates his work. We also are told that there is a wooden box in Oliver’s possession that is quite important to him. Ultimately we learn its contents, though that knowledge is parceled out in exquisitely parsimonious fashion.

Other chapters are narrated by Oliver’s acquaintances, past and present. They include (but are not limited to) Barney, who was dating Alice until Oliver swept her off her feet and carried her off; Michael, Oliver’s friend from school who managed to escape his orbit, all for the better; and Veronique, a French vineyard owner who employed Oliver for a summer during his college years, the summer when their lives were changed irrevocably.

Nugent demonstrates that she is a master of quietly ratcheting up the suspense quotient as she slowly but carefully reveals all of Oliver’s secrets — including a couple he doesn’t know, at least at first — leading up to the mystery that lies at the heart of the novel: the reason Oliver so brutally attacked his wife. It is a wild ride from first page to last, demonstrating how the sins of one generation can result in the far-reaching destruction of the next. Even more remarkably, Nugent, without apparent strain, manages to conclude the book with a happy ending, if bittersweetly so. At least two characters, the most innocent of the lot, get what they want, and it’s indirectly because of Oliver.

UNRAVELING OLIVER is a riveting work that reads as if it was written by an author who has several books under his or her belt, which is a shame, because I happily would have hunted down everything on Nugent’s backlist and read it. She has published shorter fiction, which I eagerly will seek out and read while awaiting her next book. You should as well.