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Wednesday, April 04, 2018

Unraveling Oliver by Liz Nugent | Book Review


Description: Oliver Ryan is a deeply unsettling character. The novel opens with him beating is wife and feeling no remorse. Thankfully author Liz Nugent offers several chapters told from the point of view of various characters who “unravel” the mystery of Oliver Ryan, well-loved children’s book author and dotting husband (who has the occasional tryst). Billed as psychological suspense, Unraveling Oliver delivers a fast-paced punchy novel (pun intended). Each chapter unravels another part of Oliver’s history, giving the reader a look at a boy—now a man—who is unloved and rejected by his father (a priest who brought more than the word of God to his parish). Oliver grows up in a boarding school, is looked after by Father Daniels, sent to university where he meets the lovely, vivacious Laura, does some summer travel, falls out of love with Laura, finds a family, loses a family, marries his mousey illustrator and does not live happily ever after.

• Winner of the Crime Fiction Prize in 2014 Irish Book Awards

Perfect Read for those who like BBC crime dramas. This is an Irish psycho suspense novel. The book jacket is spot on with its comp to Patricia Highsmith’s unforgettable noir classic The Talented Mr. Ripley. If you like sinister yet enjoyable tales this is for you. The domestic abuse is limited to the opening and closing chapters. The main guts of the novel are the relationships different characters have with Oliver, and their take on him. Strongly recommended.

Favourite Moment: Oliver, his girlfriend Laura and Laura’s brother Michael are working on a vineyard in France. Michael also has a crush on Oliver yet isn’t out of the closet. To “straighten him out”, Oliver suggests that Michael seduce Madame Veronique, the proprietress of the vineyard. There are several funny attempts that ultimately result in Michael confessing to Veronique that he is gay. It’s the 60s, and Ireland didn’t decriminalize homosexuality until 1993, so there’s a lot of fear and shame in his confession. Veronique changes his life by helping him be comfortable with himself. If there was a character in the book that I wish had more storytelling space, it is Veronique.

(edited to avoid spoilers)
Infamy is a lot more interesting than fame, it seems. It is not just the tabloids who think so. An acre of newsprint was used up in documenting the fall from grace of the successful writer who turned out to be a wife beater. Pundits who might previously have described themselves as close personal friends are now granting interviews in which they claim that they always knew there was something strange about me. They speculate that I was in the habit of beating my wife, despite the lack of evidence at the trial to support the theory, and they relate conversations that never happened that imply I was always violent and that Alice was terrified of me.


Unraveling Oliver by Liz Nugent
Published by Simon and Schuster Canada
Twitter @lizzienugent

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