“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, neighbours, 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.
Imagine if people you met through life, neighbours, family, and friends narrated the story of your life would it make for an interesting read? Or would it make a disturbing one? That’s precisely what happens in Unravelling Oliver. You know from the first chilling sentence “I expected more of a reaction the first time I hit her” where Oliver is talking about Alice his devoted wife that he isn’t a pleasant man, but I never expected such a shocking and gripping unveiling of a sociopath, as seen from different people’s viewpoints. The author expertly “unravels” the psyche of a very damaged Oliver in a gripping read that I read in one sitting.
One night Oliver beats Alice and she ends up in a coma. What happened to make Oliver a handsome, charismatic, and successful author do something so terrible? Various characters narrate Oliver’s story friends, family and acquaintances even Oliver himself. Slowly layer by layer each characters story “unravels” Oliver and the events that have shaped him into the person he has become.
This is a relatively short book at 240 pages, but even if it had been much longer I would still have had to read it in one sitting. Unravelling Oliver isn’t a fast paced novel by any means as it’s character led, but don’t let that put you off as it’s the extraordinary characters that make this novel such an exceptional read. Every character has their story to tale about Oliver some more chilling than others, Liz Nugent has managed to breathe life into each and everyone of her characters, and it was extraordinary reading how one person could shape some many people’s life’s in the worse possible ways.
I couldn’t help but have some empathy for Oliver as you learn more about him you realise how damaged he is, there are so many strands to Oliver, his childhood, his marriage and his relationships which made for a throughly compelling read. I found Unravelling Oliver to be a real page turner, an intelligent psychological thriller with heart. I’m ashamed to say this is the first book I’ve read by Liz Nugent and I’m kicking myself as it’s obvious the author is one very talented author.
Paperback: 240 pages
Publisher: Penguin (9 April 2015)