Ambiguity and double entendre are rife in this novel, on almost every page, with every character seemingly guilty of some sort of lie, flexibility with the truth, cover up, or self-preservation tactic. Starting with the title, even before you open the cover. Who is lying, who isn't, who is lying with who, who is sleeping with who, who is pretending, who isn't? The intrigue is absolutely bursting out of the pages, and the reader simply does not know what is going on.
This novel is the latest in the amnesia/psychological thriller genre that first started with ‘Before I Go To Sleep’ by Susan Watson way back in 2011, coming into prominence with ‘Gone Girl’ by Gillian Flynn a couple of years ago, then Paula Hawkins’ ‘The Girl on the Train’. And I expect this one will also take off and be just as successful as these other novels. Because, just as we may be starting to have amnesia-overload, the protagonist in this novel is not a young woman victim, caught between a rock and a hard place, confused, cornered, either manipulating or being manipulated. No, in this novel, we have a man, Paul Morris, 42 years old, supposed master of his universe, who finds himself in a net that may or may not be of his making. From page one – ‘How much do we collude in our own destruction? How much of this nightmare is on me?’ And the reader does not know either.
Paul is not an appealing character - arrogant, lazy, bludger, heavy drinker, broke, string of broken relationships, hedonistic. He calls himself a writer, and had some success with a novel some twenty years earlier - his best friend calls him The Great Literary Success. On the second page Paul, who is the first person narrator, tells us that ‘Plenty of friendships, I am sure, are based on lies’. Warning bells... that are not heeded by Paul or the reader. But since that novel, he has done very little with his life, continuing to dine out on this success, with no literary follow-up, is now living with his mother, no job prospects and his latest fling over.
By chance, Paul meets up with an old university ‘contemporary’ as he calls him, Andrew, whose sister Paul has vague recollections of dating at one stage when they were all at Cambridge together. Paul finds himself invited to dinner to Andrew’s, where he meets Alice, a young widow in her forties, with two teenage children. Things go swimmingly well between Paul and Alice, and before long Paul is invited to accompany them all on a two-week holiday to Greece - Alice and her children, Andrew, his wife Tina and their three children. Alice has another mission on this holiday - it is ten years since Jasmine, the fourteen year old daughter, of another holidaying couple disappeared, and Alice has worked tirelessly over the years to keep the search for this girl alive. Alice and Andrew's families were all holidaying in the town when the girl disappeared, and got to know her parents. Now, ten years later, the three families are meeting again to mark the anniversary.
Into this complicated web of relationships and history, Paul bumbles his way through, lying through his teeth about what he does, how much money he has, his life, digging bigger and bigger holes for himself. But as he slowly discovers he actually has much greater things to worry about.
This is a tightly held thriller, with the web tightening in very surprising ways around Paul. He is a walking time bomb, completely delusional about his place at the centre of his own universe, the reader figuring out fairly early on that his walk is taking him into a whole heap of trouble, largely of his own making. But his hazy memories of just about everything of course make it impossible to tell what the big reveal will be. There is not one single likeable character in this book, with the exception perhaps of Tina, Andrew's wife. The manipulation, the cover ups, the denials, the lies, the tit-for-tats, the furtiveness, the perversions - it is a never ending feast of nastiness. But what a great read. Don't take it on holiday, especially to Greece, you might find you never leave....