Tuesday 11 March 2014

Unravelling Oliver by Liz Nugent


'I expected more of a reaction the first time I hit her.'

Liz Nugent's gripping novel of psychological suspense, Unravelling Oliver, is a complex and elegant study of the making of a sociopath in the tradition of Barbara Vine and Patricia Highsmith.

Oliver Ryan is a handsome and charismatic success story. He lives in the leafy suburbs with his wife, Alice, who illustrates his award-winning children's books and gives him her unstinting devotion. Their life together is one of enviable privilege and ease - enviable until, one evening after supper, Oliver attacks Alice and puts her into a coma.

In the aftermath, as everyone tries to make sense of his astonishing act of savagery, Oliver tells his story. So do those whose paths he has crossed over five decades. What unfolds is a story of shame, envy, breath-taking deception and masterful manipulation.

Only Oliver knows the lengths to which he has had to go to get the life to which he felt entitled. But even he is in for a shock when the past catches up with him.


From the first line of the synopsis I knew I was going to be gripped by this novel. I thought this was really cleverly done and the title suits it perfectly. It really is the unravelling of a man to see how he became a monster. 

The novel starts out in Oliver's point of view where he has just hit his wife. It is the first time he has ever hit her, he then goes too far and ends up putting her in hospital. Oliver is a successful author and thought to be a likeable man, so what causes him to lash out like this? So ensues an unputdownable, captivating psychological thriller. 

As a reader we start off reading this thinking that Oliver is a very nasty man. We know what he is capable of and from the narrative, we get the impression that he is emotionally detached and unfeeling, and we don't feel like he is telling the whole truth. This is where the other characters come in and each chapter tells their point of view of Oliver and the key events that lead up to Oliver's moment where he snaps. 

The story flits back and forth between the main characters and Oliver, telling their own version of events and gradually unravelling the man that is Oliver, from when he was a boy to the grown man that he is now. My perception of Oliver kept changing throughout this. I started off strongly disliking him and I had a strong sense of unease whilst reading this. It is a dark novel that causes you to question everything that happened and I felt that I could never quite trust Oliver. But the more I began to find out, the less dislike I began to feel for Oliver and more of an understanding took over, without it condoning what he did.

Without wanting to give anything away, I thought this was heartbreaking and at the same time enlightening. I thought this was a really clever debut novel as it is written almost as if it is a puzzle. The further you read, more pieces of the puzzle start to appear and slot into place. 

Incredibly gripping and engrossing. This is a novel you will not be able to put down!


Unravelling Oliver is available from Amazon UK and Waterstones


  1. Liz Nugent is definitely on my list of authors to look out for in the future. The way that Oliver was literally unravelled so that the readers can see the parts that contributed to the awful opening sentence was amazing. Great review.

    1. Thanks so much! I love your description- that is exactly what I was trying to get at, but just couldn't find the right way to express it. Thanks for stopping by!