All The Books I Can Read

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Review: Mr Nobody by Catherine Steadman

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

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

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.

6/10

Book #17 of 2020

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Review: Something In The Water by Catherine Steadman

Something In The Water 
Catherine Steadman
Simon & Schuster UK
2018, 339p
Copy courtesy Simon & Schuster AUS

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

A shocking discovery on a honeymoon in paradise changes the lives of a picture-perfect couple in this taut psychological thriller debut–for readers of Ruth Ware, Paula Hawkins, and Shari Lapena.

If you could make one simple choice that would change your life forever, would you?

Erin is a documentary filmmaker on the brink of a professional breakthrough, Mark a handsome investment banker with big plans. Passionately in love, they embark on a dream honeymoon to the tropical island of Bora Bora, where they enjoy the sun, the sand, and each other. Then, while scuba diving in the crystal blue sea, they find something in the water. . . .

Could the life of your dreams be the stuff of nightmares?

Suddenly the newlyweds must make a dangerous choice: to speak out or to protect their secret. After all, if no one else knows, who would be hurt? Their decision will trigger a devastating chain of events. . . .

Have you ever wondered how long it takes to dig a grave?

Wonder no longer. Catherine Steadman’s enthralling voice shines throughout this spellbinding debut novel. With piercing insight and fascinating twists, Something in the Water challenges the reader to confront the hopes we desperately cling to, the ideals we’re tempted to abandon, and the perfect lies we tell ourselves.

Three things caught my attention about this book: the awesome cover, the fact that Reese Witherspoon has chosen it as one of her book club picks and Bora Bora. All of those really made me want to read it and because it wasn’t that long I found the time to slot it in almost right away.

Erin makes documentaries and has gotten permission to film the release of three very different people who are being released from jail. The man she’s about to marry, Mark, works in finance in London although just before the wedding, he loses his job in some rather suspicious circumstances. They dial the wedding back a bit but keep their luxurious honeymoon to Bora Bora (which is my dream destination!) and it’s a blur of first class travel, a fancy over the water villa and days of swimming, sun, food and drinks until a random encounter has the potential to change their lives forever.

Would you, or wouldn’t you? is the question this book seems to pose and after some deliberation and a mistake, Erin and Mark decide that they very much would. But oh man do they do some stupid things as well, having made this particular choice. In some ways they’re clever, trying to hide their tracks from ever having been there but they seem to balance that out with the stupidity of reading the messages on the phone that’s part of what they find, which sends read receipts to whoever the ominous party is on the other end.

Reese Witherspoon has had some success with buying film or tv rights to a book she’s enjoyed and it seems that she’s bought the rights to this one too. I actually think that this book will work really well as a TV mini series or movie. In fact it might work better than it does as a book. The scenery of Bora Bora, the agonising decision, the back and forth, the sneakiness, the suspense and feeling of are they being watched, does someone know what they’ve done? Will they be found? I can see all of that working really, really well on a screen, especially as I feel it will better showcase the dynamic between Mark and Erin, which is actually quite interesting. The opening scene is a direct contrast with what follows and you wonder how it got to that stage.

I enjoyed a lot about this but there’s no denying that for me, so much of felt like it relied on some really unbelievable coincidences. For example, when they get back to London after the Bora Bora trip, they need to sell something. It becomes very obvious that they can’t do it legally but luckily one of the people that Erin is filming for her documentary has those contacts and is extremely willing to help this person he just met sort that out. I wondered whether or not he had anything to do with it or was maybe even the mastermind for a while, but it just didn’t seem likely. What would the odds be? It seemed really weird that he was so keen to help this person who was filming his release from jail – it could’ve just as easily been a set up to see if he was really rehabilitated. He had little reason to trust her, especially as he’s supposedly a hardened criminal. Also they take something back to London with them that really…..they just should’ve left behind. If they were going to be smart about it, there’s quite a few things that they take back or look at that they just really should not. If they wanted to cover their tracks, there’s many better ways they could’ve done it.

It was interesting how when presented with an opportunity, it took relatively little time for both Erin and Mark to decide that they would take it, despite the fact that it was obviously illegal and fraught with danger. It seemed that greed was a factor for both of them, although I understood it in Mark’s case, I wondered about it in Erin’s. She seemed largely oblivious to their money issues once Mark lost his job and I wondered if she was so desperate to keep what they found because it would help Mark, because he seemed to be floundering. I wondered how much of her motivation was more about her marriage and wanting to prop him up, rather than her own personal greed. Perhaps I’m attributing more to her than there was, but it definitely seemed like Erin (despite her secret keeping) was more about the marriage than he was. It was around halfway or so in the book when I started to wonder if Mark might be a sociopath.

This was an enjoyable read but with lots of things that I found quite hard to believe. I still think plot-wise, it’ll make an interesting movie or TV series though, with that medium better able to show a broader picture and evoke a more threatening atmosphere.

7/10

Book #121 of 2018

 

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