Unravelling Oliver is a book that completely wowed me back in 2014; starting from the killer first line of this assured debut:
‘I expected more of a reaction the first time I hit her.’
Needless to say I was stupidly excited when news tweeted out that Liz Nugent had a second novel on the way, but excitement tempered by slight apprehension; would the second book ever live up to that eye-opener of a debut?
I finally settled down, opened the book and read the first line of Lying In Wait:
‘My husband did not mean to kill Annie Doyle, but the lying tramp deserved it.’
Now we all know that one line doesn’t make a novel, but you can’t deny that this is an author who has nailed that module about capturing the reader’s attention from the start!
So we know that Lydia, wife to Andrew Fitzsimons, resident of the large house that is Avalon and mother to Laurence knows that her husband has killed a woman. What is to be revealed is how, why and whether the crime is going to be discovered.
The first line refers to an event in 1980 but arguably has its roots far back in history and unusually for books that feature the big reveal in the first line, the author hasn’t structured the book in reverse; rather we look backwards and forwards in time through three narrators; Lydia, Laurence and Karen.
From the off it is clear that Lydia is a snob, no other word for it and to say she seems a little bit on the controlling side is to put it mildly. Laurence however is just a teenaged boy when the book opens, an obese bullied boy who is hampered by his mother’s phobias. Karen is a working class girl, she works in a dry-cleaners and misses her younger sister Annie. What is great about the writing is that these characters are bought to life piece by piece so that the different facets of what really make them tick, how they think and how they act are all gradually revealed. And our three narrators don’t only tell us about themselves. Through them we get to know Andrew, his mother, Annie’s parents and a host of other secondary characters including a hapless girlfriend along the way. This book certainly won’t leave you bored for a single sentence, with every word seemingly vitally important.
I could liberally gush on for hours about the perfect time setting, with the smallest of touches to keep it real without ever causing me to move out of the story to remember that brand or that song, so enthralling is the writing. The book is set in Ireland, with enough idioms, especially when Karen is speaking to keep that to the forefront of the mind, and I could perfectly visualise Avalon, the Fitzsimons house, in my mind’s eye.
Liz Nugent is a master of the cliff-hanger and many of the short chapters have a final sentence that simply begs the reader to keep going, especially as there are three separate strands of the story to keep abreast of with each one giving just enough information to flesh out the storyline a little bit more. Beware this is a book that will steal your time away, please clear your diary in advance.
Now I know I haven’t told you anything about the plot during this review, suffice to say it is engaging, well-paced and realistic when put into context of the characters involved. I’m not willing to say anything further because you really do need to read this one for yourself with as few preconceptions as possible.
In short reading this book felt like watching a car crash in slow motion; you simply know that bad things are just around the corner but how big the bang and how far the debris will spread is unknown and I will be recommending this just as widely as I did Unravelling Oliver. I sincerely hope that Liz Nugent is working hard on a third book for me to gorge myself on.
I’d like to say a big thank you to the publishers Penguin who kindly sent me a copy of this book. This review is my unbiased thank you to them.