All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: Mr Nobody by Catherine Steadman

on February 10, 2020

Mr Nobody
Catherine Steadman
Simon & Schuster AUS
2020, 344p
Uncorrected proof copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

A psychiatrist treating a man with no memory discovers that her patient knows far more about her past than his own in a gripping psychological thriller from the New York Times bestselling author of Something in the Water.

Who is Mr. Nobody?

When a man is found on a British beach, drifting in and out of consciousness, with no identification and unable to speak, interest in him is sparked immediately. From the hospital staff who find themselves inexplicably drawn to him, to international medical experts who are baffled by him, to the national press who call him Mr. Nobody, everyone wants answers. Who is this man? And what happened to him?

Some memories are best forgotten.

Neuropsychiatrist Dr. Emma Lewis is asked to assess the patient in a small town deep in the English countryside. This is her field of expertise, this is the chance she’s been waiting for, and this case could make her name known across the world. But therein lies the danger. Emma left this same town fourteen years ago and has taken great pains to cover all traces of her past since then.

Places aren’t haunted . . . people are.

But now something—or someone—is calling her back. And the more time she spends with her patient, the more alarmed she becomes that he knows the one thing about her that nobody is supposed to know.

Well this is not a glowing recommendation of the British witness protection system, is it?

Mr Nobody is a thriller revolving around one of my favourite tropes – usually in romance but I’ll take it in any form of fiction. Amnesia. Dr Emma Lewis is a neuropsychiatrist who has done a lot of research into amnesia and the causes, both physiological and psychological. A case presents itself in Norfolk, which seems textbook for Emma’s expertise. The only problem is that Emma grew up in Norfolk and it’s the home of a terrible trauma for her but now she’s got a different name and she needs to make sure that no one recognises her. Due to what happened, her family are not popular in the local area and if the Press get word of her real identity, it’ll be a nightmare.

The patient, nicknamed Matthew by a nurse, was found on a beach with no memory of who he is or anything about his past life, even how he came to be on the beach. He hasn’t spoken at all – and in fact doesn’t utter his first word until Emma is leaning over him. But the word he says is her first name – her real first name that no one should know. Except the doctor who hired her, the first person she saw after arriving in the town who went to high school with her and now of course, her patient with amnesia. Not only does he know her real name but he also knows details of what happened that night.

The first half of this book was pretty intriguing. It begins with Mr Nobody, as he’s known before being given the name of Matthew, waking up on a beach, with no recollection of who he is or what he’s doing there. He has an injury to the back of his head, but no other wounds. He’s well dressed but in clothing that has the labels removed. He only has one sort of thread of memory, which is find her. He doesn’t know who he has to find, just that it’s important. It goes through the intake by police, his admission to hospital and slowly introduces the reader that there’s something a little bit unusual about him. He might not know anything about himself but his implacable gaze and calm nature make other people think that he knows things about them. He also displays some rather unusual skills, seemingly acting on instinct to defuse a violent situation, despite still having a head injury himself. There are many theories about him, as the days go by. His physical injuries heal which means the amnesia must be psychological, a kind of fugue state which is very, very rare. He can’t be faking, because his fMRI proved that he wasn’t.

Then….look, I feel like someone in this process was like “twists! You need more twists!” and the author was like “okay!” and then wrote in about 75 twists in the latter part of the book. It got a bit crazy and I think I was supposed to feel shocked but really I was more of the reaction of oh well, that’s happening. And now this is happening. And haha of course, that’s not the end, now it’s this and oh of course they have to go there because…why, exactly? I assumed reading the book based on a comment Emma makes about witness protection again, that she and her family were placed in the program after the events fourteen years ago in Norfolk. But now I think I must have misread her meaning and that her family must’ve just changed their names when they left the area because it seems way too easy for people to find out who she really is. I can understand her school friend recognising her, even fourteen years later. She doesn’t even try to pretend she isn’t that person, she’s basically just like oh yeah, I’m Emma now, hi. How are you? And then of course she gets outed publicly. But then I went back and re-read and she mentions police and social workers and the system to protect them, so I think maybe that is witness protection? It seemed just so easy for people to bypass that and discover her previous identity. Because of that though, I feel as though this book did raise a bit of an interesting topic about vengeance crime and who often takes the blame for an act. Emma is targeted in the book after her true identity is revealed, by someone who wants to punish her for things someone else did. And they changed their names because of the same thing – attention from the press and retribution from those that were wronged, who believe that they were in on it, or are hiding the ill-gotten gains, etc. Emma was 16 years old. Blaming her for something that someone else did is so pointless and making her a target for violence is horrible.

I think this was promising but the ending….just really kind of ruined it for me. I felt like with each ‘reveal’ I lost a bit more engagement with the story until I was viewing it with such skepticism and disbelief – I ended up feeling the same way about Gone Girl. Just a couple of twists too many and it starts to feel like I completely lose interest. For me there were a lot of things that I just didn’t really find believable, a lot of things that I don’t think were explained properly and a lot of things that just kind of seem to slide by. It was okay – I really enjoyed the first part of the book, but the further into it I got the more I felt it started to lose itself and become ridiculous. It’s not going to have a spot on my favourites shelf.


Book #17 of 2020

2 responses to “Review: Mr Nobody by Catherine Steadman

  1. We had opposite reactions to this, I wasn’t all that interested in the first half but raced through the latter. I’ve read about Matthew’s condition before so I really liked the way the author made use of it. I did think the vitriol against Emma was unlikely though ( it was a relatively small amount and so many years ago)

  2. Doug says:

    I found it all a bit contrived – the luck of having a cigarette lighter at a key moment for example. What I was confused about was that Matthew had all these skills that suggested some kind of police or military training but he hadn’t actually been in either – he merely took the identity of a soldier.

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