Unravelling Oliver - Liz Nugent

Genre: Fiction
Synopsis: Oliver Ryan is a handsome and charismatic success story. He lives in the suburbs with his wife, Alice, who illustrates his award-winning children's books and gives him her unstinting devotion. Their life together is one of enviable privilege and ease - enviable until, one evening after supper, Oliver attacks Alice and beats her into a coma. In the aftermath, as everyone tries to make sense of his astonishing act of savagery, Oliver tells his story. So do those whose paths he has crossed over five decades. What unfolds is a story of shame, envy, breath-taking deception and masterful manipulation. Only Oliver knows the lengths to which he has had to go to get the life to which he felt entitled. But even he is in for a shock when the past catches up with him.


Review: This was an extremely unusual read. For the majority of my time reading it, and for the couple of days after, I have to admit to having no idea how I feel about this novel. I believe the reason for this is that, while I love what the author was attempting with this book, I'm not entirely convinced by its execution. Honestly, I think that even the simple re-arrangement of a few chapters -and the order in which we learn about Oliver's life - would have made a significant enough difference for the novel to succeed more fully. It is narrated from several viewpoints by people who recount their significance in Oliver's life, which is a fantastic way to approach this novel, but unfortunately they started divulging facts before I had had time to come to care about Oliver at all. This made the initial few chapters somewhat of a chore.

As Oliver's backstory was revealed, I did come to sympathize with his plight somewhat, and I do think that with slightly better writing and structure, it could have been a perfectly credible path from past to present. Unfortunately it is simply too convoluted from the outset, and any emotional response the reader might have to Oliver is stunted by the task of... well, unravelling him. That said, there were quite a few characters I liked (Laura, Michael, Father Daniel, Barney, and Alice herself) and I loved learning about the connections between them. There were also characters I cared nothing for (Moya, Veronique), who dampened my enjoyment. Also, the inclusion of the names Dax and Jean-Luc made me wonder if the author isn't a fan of Star Trek - every single time I read either name.

I'm still a little unsure about this book - there were moments when I connected with it and so vividly saw scenes and complex characters beautifully illustrated, disjointed from moments when I found myself repeatedly checking the page numbers to see how much further I had to go. As this is a debut novel, I'm willing to overlook the elements of this novel which I felt jarred, and will happily read whatever the author writes next. And while Unravelling Oliver is a little undercooked, I still firmly think it's worth reading.

Rating: 3/5

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