author: Lisa Jewell
published: 13 October 2020
publisher: Atria Books
source: Book of the Month
buy/shelve it: Amazon | B&N | BookBub | Goodreads
The author of the “rich, dark, and intricately twisted” (Ruth Ware, New York Times bestselling author) The Family Upstairs returns with another taut and white-knuckled thriller following a group of people whose lives shockingly intersect when a young woman disappears.
Owen Pick’s life is falling apart.
In his thirties, a virgin, and living in his aunt’s spare bedroom, he has just been suspended from his job as a geography teacher after accusations of sexual misconduct, which he strongly denies. Searching for professional advice online, he is inadvertently sucked into the dark world of incel—involuntary celibate—forums, where he meets the charismatic, mysterious, and sinister Bryn.
Across the street from Owen lives the Fours family, headed by mom Cate, a physiotherapist, and dad Roan, a child psychologist. But the Fours family have a bad feeling about their neighbor Owen. He’s a bit creepy and their teenaged daughter swears he followed her home from the train station one night.
Meanwhile, young Saffyre Maddox spent three years as a patient of Roan Fours. Feeling abandoned when their therapy ends, she searches for other ways to maintain her connection with him, following him in the shadows and learning more than she wanted to know about Roan and his family. Then, on Valentine’s night, Saffyre Maddox disappears—and the last person to see her alive is Owen Pick.
I love Lisa Jewell, and while I enjoyed this book, it’s fair to say I have a complicated relationship with it. There were some things I really loved about it, but there were also some things I questioned. And there were other things that I wished had been more a part of the story.
The book is told from the alternating perspectives of Saffyre, Owen, and Cate. Saffyre and Owen are alike in a lot of ways, both very complex, lonely, tormented characters, both outcasts in different ways. Cate lives a very different life from both of them, but her story, too, is emotional, and lonely, in its own way. Their stories weave together in a twisty and engrossing way, creating a book that is incredibly thought-provoking. There are a lot of triggering moments (abuse, infidelity, rape, sexual assault, gaslighting), but none overly graphic. It is definitely a story that sticks with you long after you’ve read the last page.
The character development was, for the most part, excellent. The author was successful at painting Owen as a predator. However, there were aspects of his story that I wish had been a bigger part of it, especially since it was something mentioned in the book’s blurb, the connection to the incel community. I think more of that, while a reprehensible community, could have added another layer to the story. And Saffyre… she, too, was one with whom I had a complicated relationship. She was tragic to be sure, but she was also a bit on the creepy side, which often made her a little on the unlikable side.
While I liked the actual whodunit portion of the conclusion, there was, at least for me, a feeling that the entire thing wrapped up a little too easily, that the connections made were a bit too convenient, that everyone moved on to happier things a little too quickly. There were some moments in there that I had a hard time suspending belief for. But despite this, I did enjoy the book. It was a bit of a slow burn at first, but there came a point at which I couldn’t put the book down. It was just so twisty, and I NEEDED TO KNOW!
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