Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough
I had this book on my “to read” list forever and found a hardback at the local library. It seems like the kind of thing I’d just adore, promising twists and turns and deep schemes. I was expecting Girl on the Train, or even Gone Girl, or maybe the not-quite-as-good Girl in the Window. I got a girl, anyway. I’ve hidden anything even remotely spoiler-y behind a cut. The fact that Adele is going to turn out to be a “bad” guy I don’t count as spoilery. You can pretty much know that going in.
On the surface we have a troubled relationship between a beautiful heiress named Adele who loves a man named David, except she doesn’t love his hobby, which is “shagging other women.” David is a psychotherapist, and one night he meets Louise in a bar and they totally hit it off. Only it turns out that Louise is the person who has just been hired to be the secretary for his office. So yeah, he’s hot for the secretary. Then Louise meets Adele and the two of them become best friends. You see that light in the distance? That’s the trainwreck coming.
There’s all these hinted secrets. David has burn scars on his hands, and there’s something about a wrist watch. Adele keeps hinting at her “plan” and how Louise fits into her “plan.” How does Adele know the content of conversations between Louise and David? There’s a notebook written by a boy they used to know named Rob, and something about lucid dreaming to cure night terrors. Honestly, all the secrets and the promise of a revelation at the end was what kept me reading. The secrets are pretty much revealed, and there was a twist I hadn’t expected. But other things didn’t hold water. For example, she paints the room in shades of green, and David is furious about it, and it turns out the reason is that she did it to remind him of her family’s estate in Scotland. Um, what? That’s ridiculous.
On the surface, David is a violent, controlling, cheating, lying, alcoholic who is cruel to his wife despite the fact that she adores him. Adele is a fragile and timid creature who foolishly gave her new husband control of her fortune. Louise is an underemployed single mum who drinks too much and is too weak to say no to David when he shows up at her door wanting some action. Once the true story and the true secret is revealed, you learn that David is still a violent, controlling, cheating, lying drunk who is cruel to his wife despite the fact that she adores him. Adele has a deeper side that means she’s less of a victim than it might seem at first blush, and Louise is an even more pathetic loser of a woman who had a billion chances to make a grown up decision and throws them all out the window. Once I found out the the truth about what really happened, I was supposed to go “oh, Adele is the real villain here and David is innocent!” But he was still a loathsome turd. He says she’s a psychopath, but it sounded too much to me like “oh my ex-girlfriend was crazy! She kept having inconvenient emotions as a response to my selfish and hurtful behavior!”
Louise, by virtue of the fact that she was knowingly screwing not just her boss, but another woman’s husband, was also pretty much a loathsome turd. And she’s friends with the woman she’s cuckolding, which just makes her even more vile. The supposed secret that Adele held over David to answer the obvious “why don’t they just get divorced” didn’t hold water. (view spoiler)[David knows enough how unfairly the world is skewed in his favor when he tells Louise that if she goes to his boss about their affair, she’ll look like a tramp because the boss is a man’s man who always blames the woman. Does he really think that a man that deeply entrenched in privilege is going to go to prison on account of a wristwatch? (hide spoiler)]
Some of the writing bothered me. I got confused in more than one chapter about who was speaking because Adele and Louise had the same voice. They also name-dropped brands constantly. I’m assuming they were brands, though I hadn’t heard of any of them. The characters make a big deal about lucid dreaming being this super-secret art, but lucid dreaming is like learning to French-braid your own hair; a moderately clever 12-year-old might figure it out on her own. (view spoiler)[Astral projecting (which is what it’s called, though it doesn’t work quite like it does in the book) is either supernatural or a difficult skill one learns after years of meditation, not stage two of lucid dreaming. I think that the author thought she was making something up, but accidentally described something that (many people believe) actually exists, and because I went into this book with the expectation that this was not speculative or supernatural fiction, the result is that it feels like the author just didn’t do quite enough research. I like supernatural elements in books, but I prefer it when I’m expecting them. (hide spoiler)]
Does it have plenty of secrets and unexpected twists? Yes. Did I start to root for a different person once I find out these secrets? No. Does it have compelling and believable characters? No. The heroine, Louisa, started out sympathetic and got pathetic. I was supposed to hate Adele once I found out her secret and have tolerance and understanding for David, but I could never forget how nasty David had been in the present day to think that the events of the past exonerated him. At the end of the book, I only had sympathy for Louisa’s son, that he had the misfortune to have Louisa for a mother. End verdict: Plotting is pretty good, characters are unlikeable, prose has issues. This book is only okay.
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Book Review: Behind Her Eyes
Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough