Sunday, 8 June 2014 | MYT 12:00 AM

Unravelling Oliver

  • Author : Liz Nugent
  • Genre : Fiction
  • Publisher : Penguin


Searching for reasons

Have you ever taken a moment to consider why people do the things they do? Why do they kill? Why do they physically and mentally abuse others? Is there a reason behind all of this?

Oliver Ryan is a mystery, an enigma. A thousand questions surround him, and there are very few answers. Why, for instance, did handsome, famous Oliver chose not a wife of equal stature, but a union with plain-looking Alice O’Reilly? Odd, don’t you think?

The book’s title suggests exactly what it is about: the discovery of dark secrets, the outrageous unfolding of manipulative conspiracies, and the unscrambling of mysteries. It could have been a great book if only the plot was not so predictable.

It starts with Oliver beating up Alice so badly that she ends up comatose. We then traverse back in time to make sense of this action. Oliver grew up in a boarding school. So he grew up institutionalised – a matter of nature versus nurture, perhaps? But Oliver is not an orphan. He believes he is the child of a prostitute, and because of that his father shunned him.

He grows up impoverished in every sense: penniless, unwanted, and unloved. We are given to understand that this fuels many of his subsequent actions, such as spying on his father’s new family and seeking out friends who are cherished by their families.

The catalyst to the subsequent events lies in France, where we meet another cast of characters. From here, the pieces start to fall into place like a 500-piece jigsaw puzzle – not so easy to figure out, but not that difficult once the edges are pieced together.

For an author making her debut, Liz Nugent has done a decent job of piecing together a psychological thriller. The elements are there: The revelations, the twists and turns, the sins meticulously positioned for the reader to easily grasp.

It would have been better, though, if the characters had been given more depth. Too many point of views during a single event makes it that much harder to connect with and feel for them. Perhaps the reason for the lack of depth was to keep us from not sympathising with any one character, but it became tedious a quarter way into the book.

And what wouldn’t I give to have Nugent delve deeper into the bond between Barney and Eugene! It became an episode to look forward to, to cherish even. This is shown through Barney’s occasional narrative, though only one chapter was reserved for Eugene to express himself.

Which begs the question: why only one chapter for Eugene? It did not do his character any justice, neither did it solidify his melancholy or helplessness his situation exemplified. Again, the depth was lacking, that sense of connection with the reader was just not there.

What truly irked me was that sense that you just know what is going to happen next. To me, this feeling should not exist when it comes to a psychological thriller – I don’t want to be able to foresee the next turn of events, I want to be surprised, to be shocked by the unthinkable development of the plot.

But then again, Nugent did manage to tease with the occasional dangling of carrots, making me curious about the whys and what ifs. I just wish the answers to those questions were more exciting and not so bland.

The one highlight was how Nugent managed to capture Oliver’s nature. Why he did the things he did, why he chose to be this way. Yes, she portrayed him as a monster, but monsters can also be a product of circumstance. And sometimes, even monsters deserve a degree of affection – that, I think, would have made all the difference.

Tags / Keywords: Unravelling Oliver , Liz Nugent , fiction


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