Author and Scriptwriter

'Among the most important writers of contemporary British horror.' -Ramsey Campbell

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Behind Her Eyes By Sarah Pinborough

The fab Ms. P.
Sarah Pinborough is an author whose career basically embodies the term ‘levelling up’. After emerging in the mid-2000s with a succession of pulpy supernatural thrillers from Leisure Books, she made her mark as a writer to be taken seriously with the award-winning and poignant novella The Language Of Dying. Since then she’s gone from strength to strength, penning (among others) a dystopian crime trilogy featuring the fallen angels (The Dog-Faced Gods trilogy) a brace of Victorian murder mysteries (Mayhem and Murder) with a supernatural tinge, the devastating novel The Death House and a first-class YA thriller, 13 Minutes. Throughout, she’s aimed higher, got better and better, and marked herself out as a name to watch.

Pinborough’s latest, Behind Her Eyes, has been spoken of as her breakthrough book, one that will propel her name in among the front rank of British thriller writers. And they may be right.

Single mum Louise feels as though her life’s stopped: it consists of her son Adam, her job as a doctor’s receptionist, the occasional joint and bottle of wine with her friend Sophia – and that’s it. Then she meets David – attractive, charming and sexy. Only one problem: he’s her new boss.

Louise begins an affair with David, but also – despite her better judgement – befriends his wife Adele. Trying to prevent her lover and her friend from finding out about about one another, Louise is drawn deeper into the secrets and lies of the couple’s marriage. Is David, her gentle and charming lover, a controlling and abusive husband? Or is Adele more than she seems?

Well, that would be telling.

The most frustrating thing about Behind Her Eyes – frustrating in a good way – is that it’s hard to describe why it’s such a good read without spoiling it for anyone who hasn’t had the pleasure yet. That’s not just because of the plot’s twists and turns, although it has plenty of them and they’re done very well – there’s a reason #wtfthatending has been trending constantly about the novel. It’s more than that.

What drives this book is a simple, but very unwelcome and unsettling truth: you can never really
know for sure what goes on in someone else’s head. Your closest friend, your most intimate lover, your spouse of years or decades: they’ve all got secrets that you’ll never find out. You just have to make your peace with that and hope none of those secrets are dangerous. But in Behind Her Eyes, of course, they are.

Which is what makes it so much more than just another clever thriller with a twist: that uncomfortable truth is the book’s central theme and the motor that drives the whole story. The book cuts between Louise and Adele’s viewpoints, so we only ever see David from the outside, our view of him constantly changing. And while we spend a lot of our time inside Adele’s head, she’s constantly pulling the rug from under us: small wonder, then, that even David doesn’t know all her secrets.

Tautly written, beautifully constructed and with superbly-drawn characters, Behind Her Eyes is Pinborough’s best novel to date. I haven’t re-read it yet, but I suspect I’ll enjoy it even more the second time around, knowing what I know now.

 And, #wtfthatending?

Oh yes, indeed.

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