Apologies for not getting any posts up for a few days – it’s been a bit hectic – what with a first aid training course, back to school and all that entails, plus of course a wonderful quick trip down to London on Wednesday to have tea at the Wolseley Restaurant on Piccadilly with my three co-editors of Shiny New Books. Can you believe it’s the first time the four of us have been together in the same place.
In case you haven’t seen the proof – here it is (from L>R: Harriet, me, Victoria and Simon). I’d also recommend the Wolseley as a posh but affordable place to go in the West End – a cream tea is £10.75+service, but you do need to book. Originally a (Wolseley) car showroom, the restaurant is in the French grand café style, bustling with attentive waiters.
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But back to my blog now. Despite being so busy, I have been reading quite a lot, and thus have a stack of books waiting to be written about. Here’s one of them…
Unravelling Oliver by Liz Nugent
I expected more of a reaction the first time I hit her.
I’d be willing to wager that almost every review of this novel will contain this quote. You can’t not include it really. It immediately sets the scene and introduces us to the monster of a man that is Oliver Ryan, and his long-suffering wife Alice. We don’t know why he did it, he doesn’t tell us, but it’s clear from the start that he’s a right bastard – and what’s more, he knows it.
Oliver Ryan is the successful author of a series of children’s books, written under the pseudonym Vincent Dax. Alice is an illustrator and they were paired by his publisher to work together and it went from there. They’ve been together for years now, childless, ‘When we got engaged, I made it very clear that children were not on the Agenda.’ Oliver describes Alice as ‘habitually obedient with just an occasional rebellion.’ You sense that she’d not the type of woman he’d usually go for, yet he does seem to care deeply for her in a way. So, why did he hit her then?
The author teases out Oliver’s past by getting those who know him best to tell of their experiences, amongst them are Alice’s former boyfriend Barney, Oliver’s only real teenaged pal (until it all goes wrong) Michael, his neighbour Moya with whom he’s been having an affair out of sheer laziness for ages and most notably perhaps – Véronique who now owns the French chateau where Oliver, Michael and Michael’s sister Laura worked one summer in the vineyards.
Their tales are interspersed with Oliver’s memories, mostly from his school days which sounded very grim. Oliver never knew his mother, and when his father remarried, he was sent away to the boarding school just up the road – so close he could watch his new half-brother growing up through binoculars from a high window. He languishes there, ignored, not even going home during the holidays, effectively abandoned except for an annual duty visit from his father. He tries hard to get his father’s attention, but it ain’t gonna happen – for his father has secrets too.
His father is the key that makes Oliver become what he is – a classic case of lack of nurture overcoming nature. Oliver becomes determined to show him that he doesn’t need him. He is handsome, charismatic and clever, but he takes risks and short cuts to further his ends and this will be his undoing. The way he tramples on his friends and acquaintances and the consequences of his actions are truly shocking, as is his own family history when it is revealed.
When this unsolicited book arrived recently, I wasn’t sure whether I’d read it or not. I’m rather glad that I inspected it further though for it was a gripping read. Debut author Liz Nugent has delivered a compelling and concise novel, something many first-time published novelists don’t manage. Each of the characters comes alive in their chapters, the only person we don’t hear from is Alice herself which when I thought about it was surprising at the time of reading, but upon reflection unnecessary to drive the narrative.
Nugent is Irish, and the atmosphere she has created in Unravelling Oliver reminds me of another novel of obsession by an Irish author, that I read a few years ago. That was The Illusionist by veteran author Jennifer Johnston (reviewed here, in which a relationship falls apart and the man within revealed have a rather different character. That I can compare the two shows that Liz Nugent is an author to watch out for. (8.5/10)
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Source: Publisher – Thank you! To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
Unravelling Oliver by Liz Nugent. Pub March 6th, 2014 by Penguin Ireland, Trade paperback, 231 pages.
The Illusionist by Jennifer Johnston, paperback.