This is one of those psychological thrillers of the waiting for the penny to drop variety.
I’ve actually read Pinborough’s work before, a forgettable Torchwood novel, and would have passed this one by if not for a decent write-up in the New York Times. Even without that review I might have read the book anyway given all the hype the novel has generated in the last month or so. Pinborough has been writing since 2009 but this would appear to be her breakthrough novel.
I wanted to love this novel – I like a good, twisty psychological thriller – unfortunately unlike so many others who have raved about Behind Her Eyes, the book fell flat for me. The writing is far superior to the pedestrian prose of her Torchwood book (possibly not the greatest bar to jump), and yet as can often be the case with fiction that relies on a significant twist, the sort that publishers and publicists milk for all its worth by asking reviewers NOT TO SPOIL THE ENDING, the reveal is either (a) never going to match the build up or (b) the characters are so dull that even if the twist is a stroke of genius it has little impact. Behind Her Eyes is the latter. Unlike a Gone Girl where the novel’s success is as much about the reveal as it is about the sick relationship between the protagonists, I never felt the same with Louise – a single mother drawn into a web of passive aggressive intrigue between her new boss and her boss’s wife.
The actual premise is the best bit of the novel. What if you were chatted up by a strange man in a bar who the following day you discover is actually your new boss. It all falls apart though when we are introduced to the boss’s wife whom, from the outset, is a sandwich short of a picnic as evidenced by the convoluted revenge game she’s playing with her husband, Louise a key part of her plan. Once you realise the wife is manipulating events the novel becomes a waiting game, which, again, is OK as long as the characters are interesting and the situation is dynamic and there’s an actual sense of danger. But Louise – who I found reasonably sympathetic in the early part of the novel – keeps making idiotic decisions of the throw the book against the wall variety and once you stop giving a shit as to what happens to Louise you either stop reading the book or impatiently wait for the twist to happen. And then it does and you realise you’d already guessed it and while the second twist is surprising – because there’s always a second twist – sadly none of it justifies the time spent reading the story.