All The Books I Can Read

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Review: Second Life by S.J. Watson

on February 11, 2015

Second LifeSecond Life
S.J. Watson
Transworld Publishing (Random House UK)
2015, 384p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Julia lives in London with her husband Hugh, a surgeon and their adopted teenage son Connor. Julia’s sister Kate was only sixteen when Connor was born and not really in the right place to take care of him and she was happy to let Julia and Hugh step in. Recently Kate has been making some demands to get Connor back, which frightens Julia. She avoids speaking to her about it, still not convinced that Connor returning to Kate, who now lives in Paris, would be the best thing for everyone.

Then Kate is brutally murdered in an alleyway in France and Julia is left shocked but unable to really grieve. She makes contact with Kate’s flatmate Anna and travels to Paris to see her and it’s there she learns some shocking things about her sister, such as the fact that Kate was meeting up with men she met on the internet and having sex with them. Julia becomes convinced that one of these men could be the murderer and so, armed with Kate’s log-in and password, she attempts to find out just who her sister has been talking to.

She soon realises that if one of the men murdered Kate, they’ll be suspicious of someone using Kate’s profile, so Julia creates her own. Then she meets Lukas and all of a sudden Julia’s safe and ordered life becomes a very dark and dangerous place.

When a first book is immensely popular and successful, as S.J. Watson’s Before I Go To Sleep was, second books are hard. Really, really hard. It can be difficult to live up to that first rush of success and praise. I really enjoyed Before I Go To Sleep and I was looking forward to Watson’s second book. I expected a wild ride with plenty of twists to blow my mind and a story that would stay with me long after I finished it. Unfortunately, this book wasn’t really that sort of story for me.

The main problem I think, is Julia. She’s incredibly inconsistent and in some ways, I get it. She had a wild youth, she has had addiction problems, etc. She chose the safe path, marrying Hugh, a surgeon who is some ten years older than her. So Julia’s life in the now is very ordinary, very standard. Hugh has a good job but Julia works as a photographer which suits her as she can work whilst Connor is at school and still contribute but also be the stay at home parent. She’s constructed this life for herself deliberately and she’s worked very hard to maintain it. When Kate is killed, it affects Julia terribly. For a while in their youth she was much more than a sister to Kate, she was like a mother to her after their own mother died and their father didn’t really cope particularly well. They’d drifted apart in their older years but I think Julia still felt very much responsible for Kate, especially for her welfare and she feels as though she not only failed her but is partly responsible for her death. If she’d only talked to Kate, maybe she wouldn’t have been out that night.

Julia is horrified when she finds out Kate has been chatting with men online and occasionally meeting up with one of them in real life. But her horror and distaste at this evaporates really quickly when she gets online herself and Julia is basically an idiot from this point onward. She tries to create a false identity for herself, using a name similar to her real one but not the same etc but she stumbles at pretty much every turn and ends up revealing far too much of herself to the first person that comes along. I think the reader is supposed to find Lukas dark, mysterious and exciting but really he’s just got “creepy freak” written all over him from the very beginning. There wasn’t even any charisma to suck Julia in before the dark moments, he was just weird, needy and obviously had something off about him from the beginning. I couldn’t understand the decisions Julia made, even factoring in her decision to make the safe choice, the longing that surged up in her at times for her past life and lover. There’s just so much that sets off crazy alarm bells ringing and Julia keeps returning over and over again. It made me frustrated with her, because I think it was too heavy handed that Lukas wasn’t who he claimed to be. It makes Julia seem ridiculously stupid that she accepts his behaviour and continues to seek it out. If this were real life, Julia would’ve most likely ended up another statistic, given her actions in most of the second half of the novel.

There’s a message in here, about not giving away too much of yourself online and the dangers that can possibly result from meeting up with complete strangers that you don’t know anything about. It’s easy to be whoever you want to be when you’re just someone at a keyboard. Julia did so little to protect herself, partially because she knew that if she told people she was meeting up with someone online in an attempt to catch her sister’s killer, they wouldn’t approve. And then of course she gets so deep in with Lukas she can’t tell anyone anyway. She doesn’t tell anyone where she’ll be, she doesn’t keep the meetings brief and public, she gives away so much of her personal life that she ends up putting other people in danger. And still Julia is equal parts repulsed and excited by what she has created, which ended up driving me nuts. Perhaps that was the intention of the book? Showing that there was something yearning under the facade of the quiet and uneventful life that she’d chosen.

And don’t even get me started on the ending!


Book #32 of 2015


3 responses to “Review: Second Life by S.J. Watson

  1. Kate W says:

    I was looking forward to this book (because Before I Go to Sleep was so good!) but I have read consistently poor reviews. Think I’ll give it a miss.

  2. That’s too bad about this book as I really enjoyed Before I Go To Sleep. Not quite in a hurry to read this now (then again, I also forgot that this book was coming out until I saw your review, oops xD)

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