Thursday, December 18, 2014

Review of by Unravelling Oliver by Liz Nugent (Penguin, 2014)

Oliver Ryan has snapped.  Married for over thirty years he hits his wife for the first time.  A couple of hours later he batters her into a coma.  Oliver has always had a cold, enigmatic side to him, but he also has charm and charisma.  Combined they have enabled him to become a very successful author whose books have been turned into plays and movies, and to carry-on a series of affairs.  Since early childhood he has also had dark secrets that he has carefully protected, sometimes with deadly consequences.  Now, as Alice lies in a hospital bed, Oliver’s world is unravelling as some of his various secrets are revealed.

Unravelling Oliver recently won the Irish Crime Novel of the year award.  It could have easily won the literary novel award given its prose and style.  Unlike most crime novels, where the central driver is usually a linear plot told from a single perspective and enhanced by strong characters, Unravelling Oliver is an in-depth character study told from multiple perspectives with a non-linear narrative.  The unravelling of the title refers to both Oliver’s snapping and his fall from grace and to revealing the long run up to it that stretches back over his entire life.  In this sense it is very much a form of psychological drama (rather than thriller, though it is full of gripping moments).  The narrative is carefully constructed, each chapter told in the first person by Oliver or by those closest to him, layering in new elements to the story.  And whilst it is clear what is coming next in some instances, their reveal is nonetheless shocking.  I thought the tale was interesting whilst I was reading it, and though I enjoyed the prose and narrative I was not fully captivated, however in the subsequent couple of days it’s been rattling around in my head, kind of maturing after the fact.  Overall, a thoughtful, literary piece of crime fiction, and definitely worth a read for those tiring of the genre’s usual conventions.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the review. I' make big fan of literary psychological mysteries such as Apple Tree Lane, My Secret History & anything by Tana French.
I'm really looking forward to reading this when it's released in Canada. Have a happy & a merry today. Also wish you all the best for 2015.