Doubleday, 9 April 2015
I was sent a copy of this book to review by Amazon as part of Amazon Vine.
This is a devilishly clever debut novel from Renee Knight.
Amidst the chaos of moving house, Catherine picks up a book from her bedside. It's a gripping story, about a young man travelling Europe... gripping, and no more - until Catherine recognises herself there, recognises something that happened to her years before. But it's also not what she remembers. Her life has been rewritten, spun, retold. But nobody else should know about those events. Who does? Why are they telling the story - and why now? And what will the consequences be?
As the book - "A Perfect Stranger" - begins to spread, it threatens Catherine's marriage, her integrity as a successful TV producer, and her family.
Knight spins an enthralling tale, moving between 2013 and 1993, to show the effect on Catherine and her family both of what happened all those years ago and what is happening now that it's being revealed. It's raw and gripping, seeing her battered down by whatever - whoever - wishes her harm, and not always easy reading: at times I was torn between having to know what happened next and being reluctant to. Some pages, especially towards the end, are almost painful. A powerful book.
The characters are superb: Catherine herself carries a burden, she doesn't seem, at the start, to realise: Nick her son, who was with her in 1993, remembers nothing but has lost himself. Stephen Brigstocke the retired teacher who is, in the end, a tragic figure. None of them are nice or likeable people but all carry a burden. Some sink, and some swim. (The only one who, in the end, I'd like to have seen go under was Catherine's husband Robert, a particularly chilly and self-centred man). And Knight is skilled at the small details that make everything real - Stephen approving a dog owner's efficiency at scooping up his pet's mess; Catherine's mum, mind slipping, still recognising that her daughter is distressed and trying to make it better; or Catherine herself spiralling into parental guilt about whether she feels enough love for her son when she's tired, stressed and alone.
I strongly recommend this book.