Monday 10 August 2015

Reviewed: Unravelling Oliver by Liz Nugent

Unravelling Oliver was published by Penguin on April 9, 2015.

Thanks to Lovereading for sending me a copy of this book to review.

There’s something pretty exciting about picking up a book you’ve been desperate to read and seeing it start off brilliantly – knowing you’re in for a treat of a story. Unravelling Oliver was exactly that for me, at least at first. I guess I enjoyed the beginning and the ending a lot more than the content in the middle. This book was gripping from page one as we’re thrown straight into the story of Oliver, an unusual, multi-layered and quite uncomfortable character. The concept to this book was great. At the beginning, Oliver tells us how he has punched his wife Alice, surprising himself and leaving her in a coma. It’s a shocking opener and the rest of the book takes us back in time, a psychological study of Oliver and what turned him into the person he has become, through the perspective of the people that have known him. There’s chapters told from various different characters, all adding to the development of such a weird and interesting character, leading up to the moment he puts his wife in a coma. I wondered whether we would ever understand why.

The style this book is told in is one I truly enjoyed – really intricate and powerful. Liz Nugent showed the immense ability to write a book impossible to put down. Right from that first line, I was hooked on the story – drawn in, interested and not willing to stop reading. Throughout the course of this book, I had mixed emotions. At times I liked it, others unmoved by it. Sometimes I found it confusing and for a part, a bit dull. Other times it was tense and fascinating. The only thing which stayed the same across all 230 pages, for me, was that I always needed to learn more and with that I just couldn’t bring myself to put the book aside, even for a minute or two. I wasn’t even sure I was enjoying it that much but it was a highly compelling, intriguing story – a book perfect to read in one sitting.

Oliver was a difficult character to figure out. With each startling revelation this book delivered, my opinion on him changed. I’m not quite sure how I was meant to feel about him or even how I actually felt about him. He’s a very complicated character and has that wry wit, a dark sense of humour that kind of made him a little endearing in a strange sort of way. His experiences in the past, the way he was brought up, the people who deserted him, the mistakes he made – I almost felt sorry for Oliver at times because some of the circumstances just weren’t his fault. Even though some of the things he did were unforgiveable, this book made me consider his actions more and almost change my mind. I loved how he wasn’t an obvious evil character, we weren’t being told to hate him or even to feel sorry for him, we get a real psychoanalysis of his character and it’s quite sinister but very addictive reading.

The other characters in this book I felt were delivered with varying degrees of success. Eugene was a particular favourite of mine, a character with special needs who was written delicately but honestly. His story moved me a lot. My big issue with this book was the chapters from the perspective of characters other than Oliver. That is kind of the theme within this book as we learn about Oliver through other people. But for the most part, other than the odd twist or two, I found them fairly uninteresting and flat. There were moments of intrigue in some of them but I just couldn’t get to grips with the rest. I wasn’t expecting fast-paced, I know that wasn’t the style of this book, but I wanted something to liven the book up. Everything was told in this even, too-balanced pace and manner and it all felt a bit underwhelming. I was in anticipation of being shaken up by some shocking secrets but when they came, a few lines on I’d almost forgotten all about them. I find it hard to explain just what I mean because the appeal of this book is an actual unravelling of Oliver’s character and so anything I say will be too much of a spoiler. It’s not that I disliked this book but it wasn’t quite as striking as I had hoped and I admit I was a tiny bit relieved when it was over and I could think this book over myself. Unravelling Oliver is clever and unputdownable, not a book I can say I loved but definitely not one I’ll be forgetting in a hurry, either.

Hard-hitting beginning, satisfying ending but a fairly underwhelming story in the middle

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