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.
I have had this book sitting on my kindle for a while, however, ended up reading Liz’s second novel, Lying In Wait, first in order to hit publication date (you can read that review here). The 10 books of summer challenge gave me the perfect impetus to get it read.
Liz is the queen of the opening line! How can you not be drawn into a book immediately when it opens with this;
‘I expected more of a reaction the first time I hit her.’
Narrated by various characters, the story of Oliver and what led him to his current actions towards his wife, Alice, slowly come to life. I have always had an interest in what makes people tick and the fact that this is a why-dunnit rather than a who-dunnit really appealed to me.
Liz has a way of writing that makes you feel as though you are involved in a direct conversation with each of the characters. This serves to connect you with the characters and at points I even found myself feeling some sympathy with Oliver, despite his despicable behaviour and thought processes.
In my previous life as a social worker, I came across a lot of men who physically and emotionally abused their partners. The attitudes and lack of accountability they have towards their behaviour comes through perfectly in Unravelling Oliver ;
‘The words that come to mind are ’circumstances beyond our control’. I emphasise the word ’our’, because, although I should not have done it, she really should not have provoked me.’
Paced perfectly to, as the title states, unravel the nature of Oliver and what has made him the person he is, this is a compelling read. It would be great for reading groups as it focuses on human nature and the reasons behind our actions. Thoroughly enjoyed it.
Published on 6 March 2014 by Penguin Ireland.