Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Book review: Disclaimer by Renee Knight

"What if you realised the book you were reading was all about you? 

When an intriguing novel appears on Catherine’s bedside table, she curls up in bed and begins to read.

But as she turns the pages she is sickened to realize the story will reveal her darkest secret. 

A secret she thought no one else knew…"

To be honest, I found this review quite difficult to write because overall I'm not really sure how I feel about this book. There has been a lot of hype surrounding Disclaimer, and I can see why. It is an unusual, brilliant plot that is gripping and intriguing. However, I slightly struggled with the overall concept and I think that's where I become conflicted. 

Let me explain. 

The story follows  Catherine, who has just moved house and realised during the move she's acquired a book she didn't realise she owned. The book, however, contains details about her past. It is aimed solely at her and from the offset she realises this person knows all about her. As you can expect, this freaks her out and so she spends time trying to keep the book out of her family's grasp, as well as find out who wrote and sent it to her. 

As I said, I think the plot is excellent. It's a really unusual idea and is actually pulled off brilliantly - the book does hook you in and make you eager to find out what happens. I think the bit I struggled with was the initial pace, which was lacking and drawn out and also that the premise of the story could seem a bit over the top. 

I know sometimes with death, especially when it is an accident, people look for someone to blame. They can't accept it's a matter of wrong place, wrong time, so go out of their way to make it something else.  That's exactly what Nancy is doing with this following the death of her son - she blames Catherine, who was linked to her son prior to his death and was even there when he died, so she blames her. Nancy writes a story that fully puts the blame on her for his passing.  I kind of understand as the reason her son died was because he ran into the sea to save Catherine's son, who was at risk of drowning. A terrible accident and major sacrifice, but I struggled to relate to her pain in the fact that it wasn't like Catherine had murdered him - it was an accident gone wrong. She doesn't even know exactly what happened between Catherine and her son (which is made clear later in the story) and she doesn't know the lead up to his death. I found her furious hatred for Catherine a little much - to go to the extreme of writing this story about her and blaming her for her death seemed a little unrealistic to me. 

However, I suppose Nancy actually keeps the book to herself, it's more of a diary than an actual novel she wanted to be published. It's like she uses it as a way of coping and getting her emotions out. Sure, I still think it's a bit much, but she doesn't actually use it to torment Catherine- her husband does. He's the one that, following his wife's death, re-writes it, prints it and sends it to Catherine. Again, this is where I become a bit conflicted with the whole concept of Disclaimer. I know that he is now grieving not only for his son, but his wife also but it all seems a bit extreme. He re-writes Nancy's words as a way to keep her memory close to him, like she's still alive. He proceeds to torment Catherine with the book, firmly believing that it's what Nancy would have wanted... but clearly she didn't as she didn't do it herself, so why would she want him to? 

I guess that is the nature of complex characters and Disclaimer certainly has those in abundance. Some of the actions of the characters confused me, others made sense when you took into account the stressful or emotional situations they were in. Personally though, I found it a bit much and that it just didn't all add up and hit the mark. It could be my lack of empathy with the situation (with not being a parent myself) but the whole concept just seemed quite far-fetched for what is quite clearly an accident. I found most of the characters difficult to engage with and root for, which made it quite difficult to commit to the story. I always like to relate to or really like at least one character in a story as it gives you a focus, and this didn't happen with Disclaimer. 

Now, on to the positives. As I've already said this story certainly is gripping, mysterious and absolutely unique. Despite my reservations above, I didn't struggle to get to the end of the book, I kept going right through to the end and, at times, really enjoyed reading it, eager to find out what happens - but it is quite a demanding read. 

The ending was a brilliant surprise and I guess for me helped pick up the book some what. It is a really big twist that I didn't see coming at all, which kind of explains Catherine's complex personality and feelings towards her family more. It made some of her actions make sense, so I was pleased it tied up the overall story. The writing style is very descriptive and imaginative which I liked, particularly with very differing and distinct characters who are all explained really well, I just struggled to become invested in the journey they were going on. 

This is a hard-hitting, quite uneasy novel.  I wouldn't say this is a relaxing read, but it is entertaining - gripping and mysterious right up until the very end. As you can tell from my review, I've been pretty honest... so my honest opinion would be that I wouldn't not recommend this book, as there are some strong positives to it, particularly Renee's writing style. However, I won't be rushing out and telling everyone I know to buy it, either. I'm pretty torn with this one as I don't think it quite lived up to the hype. 

Have you read Disclaimer? What were your thoughts? 

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