2014 is proving to be a year where some pretty routine reading comes interspersed with the odd surprising gem. Before reading the last page of Unravelling Oliver I checked whether this debut novel was shortlisted for the CWA’s John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger Award. It appears to be eligible but was not entered. Had I still been a judge I’d have asked for this novel to be called in and then championed it. Why? Because Liz Nugent offers us something different, superbly written.
It is in the construction of this novel that we experience the ‘something different’. Brutal in its opening – ‘I expected more of a reaction the first time I hit her’ – it is Oliver we first meet, learning that he has attacked his wife Alice and put her in hospital. Thereafter the story unfolds with a different voice in each chapter, similar to Simon Lelic’s Rupture but without the framing of each being a police interview of a witness. This is more a series of Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads and as such lends a greater intimacy to the reader. This intimacy is both compelling and, on times, uncomfortable.
It could be argued that Oliver has already unravelled at the opening of the novel and it is through the voices of others in his life, during different periods of time, that we come to see how Oliver was in fact built, from boy to man. With such a brutal first line of introduction it is hard to imagine any sympathy for Oliver, but you may be surprised.
Nugent has created a narrative that maintains pace and tension, and she deftly drops in her teasers so that when the reveals are delivered they still come with a sucker punch to the stomach.
Unravelling Oliver is precision-engineered, intelligent writing and top notch psychological suspense.
There are good reasons I have told you very little about the plot itself. Just read it.
‘We laughed until our sides were sore, but our glee was different. Mine was bordering on hysteria.’