Obviously, you’ve all anxiously been awaiting our next debut book of the month, which as we announced on Twitter is UNRAVELLING OLIVER by Liz Nugent, published by Penguin. And luckily, this is a book that’s worth waiting for.
This is a psychological drama that begins with an incident of domestic violence, which opens with the chillingly brilliant first line: ‘I expected more of a reaction the first time I hit her.’ The speaker is Oliver Ryan, a successful children’s author with the appearance of a happy marriage to Alice, and the novel slowly reveals the darkness that lies behind his supposedly model life.
Unravelling Oliver is brilliant in so many ways. Across the novel we encounter a broad cast of characters who have known Oliver across his life, and each voice is totally convincing. From Alice’s ex-boyfriend Barney who bitterly regrets letting her be stolen by Oliver to the French host of Oliver’s seminal summer working on a French vineyard, the author perfectly captures the dialect and the personality of each individual. The only regret, in such a short novel, is that we don’t spend more time with each of them.
The plotting is also excellent – each chapter adds a layer of new information, slowly and steadily circling around the same key incidents in Oliver’s life. We learn that he never knew his mother and that his father – a priest – disowned him. We see his loveless childhood, his doomed love affair with his student girlfriend Laura, and most significantly his ill-fated summer in France, which we soon realise ended in a life-changing tragedy.
I suppose, without giving too much away, my only reservation is that the final twists in this dark tale are rather muted. There are revelations aplenty in the final chapters, but the style of the novel means that we know too much to be shocked – which is why I labelled it a drama rather than a thriller.
Overall though, this is a great debut. Liz Nugent has such a gift for character and voice that I’d love to read whatever she writes next!