I received this book for free from the Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough
Published by Flatiron Books on January 31 2017
Genres: Adult, Psychological thriller
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The nitty-gritty: A dark and twisty, different kind of love story, where things are not at all as they first appear.
Like everyone else on the planet, I heard all the marketing noise about the big twist at the end of Behind Her Eyes, via the #wtfthatending hashtag. I guess as far as marketing schemes go, it’s a good one. You want people to read the book and what better way than to lure them in with the promise of a crazy ending? So, did it work for me? Yes, definitely! I can honestly say I was not expecting THAT ending, although there are plenty of clues along the way, so it’s certainly possible readers will make the leap and figure things out before the end. But did I like the ending? Hmm, that’s another question. I mostly thought it was weird. I guess I should have expected a book from Sarah Pinborough to be genre-bending, and as much as I usually embrace books that don’t fit neatly into one slot, I found the “bending” part of this story (sorry I’m being so vague, but I really don’t want to give anything away) to be actually very jarring, almost as if the story and the ending belonged to two separate books. But you can see from my four-star rating that I really enjoyed myself, and I think you will too.
The story itself has a deliciously twisted premise, one we’ve seen many times before, but nonetheless works (which is why writers keep using it, I guess!). Louise is a bitter, divorced single mother, struggling to make ends meet, taking care of her six-year-old son, and trying to have a social life as well. One night in a bar, she is instantly attracted to a man who buys her a drink. They end up in a boozy kiss, but he guiltily breaks it off, telling Louise that he’s married. Louise decides to forget about him, after all, why would she want to get mixed up with a married man? Unfortunately, the next day at work, she discovers that her new boss is none other than the man in the bar.
Days later, Louise literally runs into David’s wife Adele, who she recognizes from a photo on his desk, and the two women slowly form a friendship. Adele appears lonely and gives Louise the impression that David is a controlling husband. Louise is drawn to Adele and wants to continue their friendship, but she and David have also started up an affair. Louise finds herself caught in the middle of a slowly disintegrating marriage, and trying to extricate herself has become nearly impossible. She can’t tell David she’s become friends with his wife, and she can’t tell Louise she’s sleeping with her husband. David’s and Adele’s stories contradict each other, and Louise doesn’t know what to believe.
First and foremost, this is a story about unreliable narrators, and yes, I mean all three main characters are hiding secrets. Just when you think you have someone pegged, something happens and you realize you were completely wrong. Behind Her Eyes is a whirlwind of secrets, shocking reveals and emotions. Pinborough tells her story through the first person narratives of both Louise and Adele in alternating chapters, giving the reader perspectives on both characters’ motivations. She does a great job of making them both seem sympathetic, as we bounce back and forth between the two women. I had my suspicions early on about who to trust and who NOT to trust, but even the most astute readers will probably be fooled! With this story, I think it’s best to just ride it out rather than try to analyze what the author is trying to do.
We find out fairly early on that Adele has spent some time in a mental health facility, which immediately casts suspicion on her. Pinborough gives us a peek into Adele’s past at Westlands through an old journal that she’s hidden from David, as well as flashback chapters entitled “Then.” Adele gives the journal to Louise, where we discover a fourth player in this twisted scenario, a man named Rob who was Adele’s only friend at Westlands.
For me, the most compelling part was the “love triangle” with Louise, Adele and David. Louise’s almost manic voice, describing her fascination with David, despite (or maybe because of) the fact that he’s married, makes her come across as slightly crazed. She obviously regrets the affair and feels terrible because she honestly likes Adele, but she can’t seem to bring herself to stop. And the more secrets about the two she begins to uncover, the deeper in she finds herself. My main beef with Louise is the way her young son fits into the story. She’s got a rather lackadaisical method of parenting which grated on me—being a parent myself. Adam is conveniently invited by his father and his new step-mother to spend a month in France, freeing up Louise to go wild with David, without having to worry about scarring her son for life with her errant behavior. In my opinion, the only reason he was even included in the story was to make Louise seem more sympathetic. I actually think the story could have managed just fine without him.
I do wonder what my reaction to the book would have been had I not heard anything about a twist at the end. In the world of social media, it’s hard to keep things like twists in books completely secret, especially when the publisher is making it a point to broadcast the fact that there’s twist. If you’re looking for a Gone Girl-like reading experience, you won’t quite find it with Behind Her Eyes. But don’t get me wrong: this book was a blast to read, and it will definitely keep you guessing. I’m always going to say “yes” to reading a Pinborough novel, and I’ll look forward to her next book with glee.
Big thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy.