[Summer 1993. Catherine is on holiday in Spain.]
It was eight o’clock by the time Nick was tucked up and asleep. She had fooled him in to thinking it was dark by closing the shutters in his room, but from her window she could see it was still light outside – too early yet for the Spanish, only a few Northern Europeans in the bar opposite. Catherine wasn’t ready for bed. She put on a denim skirt and a vest and tied up her hair. She looked OK. Her skin had a light tan and she thought, what a waste, Robert not here to enjoy this peace with her. She took her book, cigarettes and key and went downstairs. The girl in reception promised she would keep an eye out in case Nicholas appeared, but Catherine knew he wouldn’t. Once asleep, he stayed asleep.
She sat at a table on the terrace bar overlooking the beach. A waiter brought her smoked almonds and fresh anchovies and she ordered a small carafe of white wine. She waited until it arrived before she lit her cigarette, inhaled with relish and realized that she was relaxed.
observations: The setup of this book is simple and brilliant: a woman, Catherine, starts reading a novel she finds in her new house. To her horror she realizes she is reading a very lightly fictionalized version of her own past – a story she thinks no-one else knows – and that a very unpleasant ending has been tacked onto it. The ‘Disclaimer’ is the claim in the front of a novel that the characters aren’t real: but in this case she thinks they are.
It’s a great concept, and it’s interesting to see what Renee Knight does with it. There are double viewpoints, so quite quickly the reader (if not Catherine) has some idea of who is behind this – though not exactly what happened. The novel also has a double timeframe , as everyone looks back to something that happened 20 years earlier. There are two couples with sons involved, and the mind goes back and forth on what the bad secret could possibly be.
I thought the story was slow to get going after the initial shockers, there was an aimless patch where nothing new seemed to be happening. But I cannot fault the second half of the book, which was unputdownable, and confounding at times, full of surprises. Knight is a very clever writer, and messes with your expectations, your sympathies keep changing throughout the book. We’re all used to unreliable narrators and domestic noir and toxic marriages now – but even so she showed there were new places to go. It was a bit rough around the edges, but I’d be betting that Knight is going to write something even more compelling next time round, and I’ll certainly be looking out for it.