Onyx reviews: Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough
Reviewed by Bev Vincent, 01/23/2017
In the post-Gone Girl world, readers are
especially wary of unreliable narrators. Gillian Flynn's novel caught readers by
surprise with a mid-book revelation about the nature and motivations of one of
the characters, which caused them to re-evaluate everything they thought they
knew up to that point.
No one is keeping secret the fact that there is a huge twist at the end of Behind
Her Eyes. The promotional material advises readers not to trust the book or
its characters. A Twitter hashtag celebrates the twist: #WTFThatEnding.
Knowing that something unexpected is coming changes the way a reader
approaches the novel. Healthy skepticism about everything is in order. It's
difficult to even allude even in the most general terms to the nature of the
surprise without giving too much away. Perhaps that's for the best.
Behind Her Eyes is about three characters who make poor life choices.
Louise is at the center of it all, a single mother whose ex-husband has just
announced that his new girlfriend is pregnant. He wants to take their
six-year-old son to France for summer holiday, which leaves Louise at loose
ends. She's just discovered that the man she flirted with at a bar recently is
her new boss, David (shades of the opening episode of Grey's Anatomy), a
psychologist at the small clinic where she works a few days a week as a
Her situation is complicated when she literally runs into David's wife,
Adele, on the street one morning and the two become fast friends. Her
determination to not make anything more of her attraction to David falls short,
and soon she is embroiled in an affair, while maintaining an active social life
with Adele. A lot of "alternate truths" are bandied about. Neither
David nor Adele know that Louise is involved with the other.
Or so Louise thinks. Pinborough reveals early on that Adele knows a lot more
than she's letting on, and she is manipulating her husband and Louise. Adele has
deep psychological issues, and has been institutionalized. Her husband treats
her like one of his patients: he keeps constant tabs on her, medicates her,
controls her finances, and behaves like she's emotionally fragile. There are
hints of incidents from their past that bind them together more than love.
Adele's wealthy parents died in a fire: was David responsible? And what about
that dead cat?
But Adele is savvy and devious. She urges Louise to stop smoking and buys her
a gym membership so she can lose a few pounds, all to make her more attractive
to her husband. She clearly has a plan, but its nature is murky for much of the
novel, as is the source of her intelligence about things that go on outside of
her presence. The back and forth between chapters narrated by Louise and those
narrated by Adele will pull readers along. It's a bit like watching a train
wreck about to happen, knowing full well that disaster lies ahead without
understanding the nature of the danger. Adele is creating a time bomb that she
intends to lob at her husband, but to what end?
Even forewarned that nothing is to be trusted, readers will be lulled into a
sense that they understand exactly what's going on. Louise is a hapless and
engaging protagonist. Readers will feel sorry for her and feel frustrated by her
actions and her inability to extricate herself from a no-win situation (even her
philandering best friend understands the perils of her predicament), but her
actions are nonetheless understandable and relatable. People make mistakes all
the time. They aren't, however, often as expertly manipulated into them.
And what to make of Adele? Is she deserving of a reader's sympathies, too?
She seems controlled and dominated by an abusive and potentially dangerous
husband, while at the same time she seems in control of everything. And
constantly, at the back of the reader's mind, that warning: be prepared for
Nothing can prepare readers for what happens in the final pages. The
groundwork is there, but it's hard to imagine anyone putting the clues together
and arriving at that genre-stretching conclusion. Not everyone will be fully on
board with the revelation, most likely, but it is a clever bit of work
nonetheless. That sound you hear is jaws dropping in astonishment. WTF indeed.
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