“Unravelling Oliver” by Liz Nugent

Genre: Psychological ThrillerUnraveling Oliver

Here is another book with a plot that asks “how well do you really know your spouse?” It is no spoiler to start off saying that the seemingly non-violent husband beats his wife into a state that she may not survive. It is the opening of the novel told by the husband, Oliver, in a non-feeling psychopathic manner. The rest of the book is told in alternating voices, including Oliver’s, and the couples’ friends with each chapter revealing how they know Oliver. And all in their unique perspectives wonder how he could have been so savage to his loving wife of over a decade. I usually enjoy multiple narrations in a tale as I did in “Oliver.” However, this tale, for me, was a page-turner until it wasn’t. And, interesting I found Oliver’s voice to be the boring one.

The story begins in 1970’s Roman Catholic Ireland. And I am sure I am not the only one who feels sympathy for Oliver as a child who grows up in a Catholic boarding school. (No, it is not the priests that abuse the boy). It is easy to feel sympathy for the child, Oliver an illegitimate child of a father who despises him. But since the story goes back and forth in time, and the reader already knows the opening, it is hard to continue one’s empathy for the character. In college, geeky Oliver turns into a popular guy by using his good looks and masterful powers of manipulation. He and other students go to France to work on a winery. Here tragedy strikes in the form of a fire that leaves a long trail of heartbreaking devastation for most of the main characters.

The book is marketed as a dark thriller that would keep me up and night. The reason the tale lost its edge is that I feel it is more of a character study than page-turner. Asking the question; was Oliver born evil, or did his abusive childhood create evil? Or, (potential spoiler) was it the extreme racism of the times that is the real culprit? For me, somewhere in the middle of the novel, the story-line became flat, and I no longer cared.

I received this novel from the publisher at no cost in exchange for an honest review.

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