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Thursday, January 26, 2017

BEHIND HER EYES by Sarah Pinborough -- a review

BEHIND HER EYES by Sarah Pinborough

Review by Gary Fry


I came to this novel amid all the publicity concerning that "WTF" ending. I like to think that I'm a canny reader, knowing the tricks many authors try to pull on us. So I got started with Behind Her Eyes, soon becoming immersed in an intimate, often furtive tale of extra-marital shenanigans and offbeat characterisation. The novel excels in its depiction of three main characters, all of whom feel decidedly unreliable, especially the two female direct-to-camera narrators. Why is one befriending the other, and for what purpose? How can the other cope with guilt about what's she up to with her new friend's husband?

It's all very intriguing, to say the least. But what could be that twist? I'd say the twisty-turny plot keeps the pages turning, but the thought of how it ends -- whether one can guess its denouement -- renders it literally unputdownable. Pinborough skilfully -- I can't overestimate just how delicate a craft this is -- stage-manages all her plot components, offering hints and suggestions, dropping in red-herrings and additional characters to throw us off the scent [forgive mixed metaphors]. Indeed, she takes it almost to the wire, keeping the reader guessing even come the final pages, and then -- bang! The twist is revealed. It's a strong one, making sense of so much of what has come before. I was satisfied. A streetwise, cunning thriller with a punchy conclusion. Good work.

Ah, but then you realise something else. Pinborough isn't finished yet. It's at this point, practically on the final page, that the second twist strikes home. And if the first was satisfying, this one is downright disturbing, upending the whole story you've just read. Brilliant, insidious stuff. I was more than impressed by how cunningly I'd been outfoxed. It forced me to reflect hard on the whole experience.

Once a little time had passed, and the "reel" the book caused had settled a little, I was able to appreciate how Pinborough achieved all this. She never fully reveals which genre she's working in -- thriller, crime, supernatural -- and that keeps the reader on edge about potential developments. The plot twist/s, while lacking originality (the central conceit is actually a commonly used one), forms the core of this genre ambiguity, the event which switches the book from one field to another. I guess some folk, dyed-in the-wool devotees of specific forms of genre fiction, won't care for such blending, but I found it irresistible, inducing a genuine sense of dislocation. It's a sterling performance. And for the story's execution, along with its double-punch finale, I give Behind Her Eyes top marks.

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