Girl Unknown by Karen Perry | Review

It’s not often I read a book in a single sitting, but that’s exactly what happened with Girl Unknown by Karen Perry.

Part domestic drama, part psychological thriller, this story is about what happens when a first year student walks into a Professor’s office and claims to be his daughter.

The professor is David Connolly. He is a history professor in UCD and is in line for promotion. Caroline, his wife, was a stay at home mother but recently returned to work. She is an advertising executive. They have two children: Holly is 11 while Robbie is doing his Junior Cert.

When Zoë Barry turns up, David is at first not sure if she really is his daughter. In fact, he’s so unsure he arranges a surreptitious DNA test. Soon, however, he comes to believe she’s genuine.

David feels protective towards Zoë. When he introduces her to his family, things seem to go okay at first. At least, that’s how it looks from his point of view. But Caroline sees another side of Zoë. Nevertheless, partly because she feels guilty about unresolved issues from the past, Caroline allows Zoë into their home.

Gradually Zoë exploits tensions in the Connolly marriage. She exposes vulnerabilities and this threatens the Connolly’s security.

As Girl Unknown unfolds, Holly and Robbie play important roles but are less well realised than the other characters.

David and Caroline are well drawn and believable characters. The unresolved issues in their relationship leave them open to exploitation and Zoe knows how to take advantage.

The story is told from David’s and Caroline’s points of view. Zoë’s character emerges through their interactions with her.

Consequently, Zoë is somewhat less developed. While her motivations become clearer as the story progresses, she’s a bit of an enigma. She’s vulnerable but also manipulative.

At many points in this story it’s not what’s said, but rather what’s left unsaid that has the greatest impact.

Girl Unknown is a short, intense read with interesting twists, including a totally unexpected one at the end.

[Disclosure: I received an advance review copy via Netgalley]

My Husband The Stranger by Rebecca Done | Review

The first thing to say about My Husband The Stranger by Rebecca Done is that it isn’t really my kind of book.

While it’s a domestic drama — which I usually like — it’s stronger on relationships than on plot. So, it’s not as much of a page turner as stories that are stronger suspense.

It’s about a woman whose husband’s personality changed following a brain injury.

Molly is a copywriter. She met her husband Alex and his twin brother Graham in a pub. Molly and Alex fell in love, married and were blissfully happy until Alex fell down some stairs at Graham’s flat.

The fall caused an injury that changed Alex’s personality. Where once he was kind and loving, after the fall he became moody and volatile. He and Molly often fight.

Coping with changed circumstances

Essentially, the story is about Molly’s difficulties living in a changed situation. While she still loves Alex, her life is different and she finds it hard to cope. She’s the breadwinner and also has to keep the house running smoothly. She runs into problems at work because she’s often late when things go wrong at home. Her boss is unsympathetic and although a colleague covers for her, she’s on a warning for turning up late and missing some appointments.

If you enjoy novels about relationships, there are certainly moments in My Husband The Stranger that will strike a chord. Who hasn’t had a failed relationship and wondered what might have happened if instead of getting involved at the outset, you had simply smiled and walked away?

But the pace of this story is slow and, while there is some mystery in the plot, it’s not until about two thirds of the way into the novel that things begin to get interesting.

The suspense has to do with Alex’s relationship with his twin brother. Once the focus shifts in this direction, the action picks up making the last third of My Husband The Stranger a better read.

My Husband The Stranger by Rebecca Done is published by Penguin.

[Disclosure: I received an Advance Review Copy via Netgalley.]

Apple Tree Yard by Louise Doughty | A Review

I first heard about Apple Tree Yard at a book club meeting. Someone described sitting up all night to finish it. That persuaded me to buy a copy. Then, before I had time to read it, BBC televised the story. Sometimes when that happens, it spoils a book. On this occasion, however, I enjoyed the TV series and felt it didn’t take away from the pleasure of reading Louise Doughty’s tightly crafted tale.

Apple Tree Yard is a story about a middle aged scientist who embarks on a risky affair. Yvonne Carmichael is married with two adult children. She works mostly from home. A geneticist, she sells her expertise as a consultant and is also an external examiner for postgrad students.

“… was it a kind of addiction, to the story, to the drama of what we were doing?”

Yvonne is respected, successful, grounded and has a comfortable life. Yet somehow she impulsively trades all this for excitement.

Then, having begun a risky affair, she persists — seeing what she want to see where the reader, perhaps sees something else.

“Our interior lives may be wildly different from how we are perceived but how can we expect other people to understand that?”

The story is told from Yvonne’s point of view. Everyone else is seen through her eyes but Louise Doughty uses Yvonne’s observations to allow readers draw their own conclusions about the other characters.

Yvonne understands the gap between her reasons for her actions and how others perceive them. She justifies herself to herself. Because readers see her thought processes, they get to know her well. They may not like Yvonne but she’s interesting enough to keep turning the pages to the end.

Ultimately her story is about lies and self delusion — how ordinary people construct stories to rationalise their own behaviour to themselves. And how those rationalisations often fail to stand up to public scrutiny.

“My actions, and the actions that were done to me — they had replaced me. I am not what I did, I wanted to say to them, or what was done to me: but as far as other people are concerned, we are indeed the sum of our actions and the things that act upon us.”