Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough
Louise is a single mom, a secretary, stuck in a modern-day rut. On a rare night out, she meets a man in a bar and sparks fly. Though he leaves after they kiss, she’s thrilled she finally connected with someone.
When Louise arrives at work on Monday, she meets her new boss, David. The man from the bar. The very married man from the bar…who says the kiss was a terrible mistake, but who still can’t keep his eyes off Louise.
And then Louise bumps into Adele, who’s new to town and in need of a friend. But she also just happens to be married to David. And if you think you know where this story is going, think again, because Behind Her Eyes is like no other book you’ve read before.
David and Adele look like the picture-perfect husband and wife. But then why is David so controlling? And why is Adele so scared of him?
As Louise is drawn into David and Adele’s orbit, she uncovers more puzzling questions than answers. The only thing that is crystal clear is that something in this marriage is very, very wrong. But Louise can’t guess how wrong―and how far a person might go to protect their marriage’s secrets.
For me reading has always been an emotive experience. I’m not hugely interested in the technicalities of writing. Don’t get me wrong, when a story is well written I think it shows, but ultimately if a story makes sense and I can connect with it on some level, I’m sold. Why this preamble? When I first started reading Behind Her Eyes, I was concerned that this wasn’t the book for me, that I wasn’t quite the target audience. I was worried that I wouldn’t find that emotional connection that I am always looking for. The good news is that I needn’t have worried, I was entirely wrong.
At first glance, Behind Her Eyes appears to be a relatively straightforward story about a marriage gone wrong, a resulting love triangle and how each participant is affected by the fallout. Everything moves along quite traditionally until the narrative reaches a point where suddenly you realise there is something far more sinister going on. Behind Her Eyes has a beautifully dark streak running right through its middle, and damn if that doesn’t make for an engrossing novel.
Each of the three main characters – David, Adele and Louise are well crafted and realistic. Their actions and reactions feel genuine. The initial chapter focuses primarily on Louise and the horrible realisation that she has made an error of judgement that is likely to affect her both personally and professionally. David and Adele are also both affected by Louise’s mistake, and all three lives begin to spiral out of control. On top of all that turmoil there are some deep, dark secrets in David and Adele’s marriage that steadfastly refuse to stay hidden. Skeletons have a nasty habit of falling out the closet, and as the plot unfolds we get the opportunity to learn some of Adele’s troubled history. How exactly did David come to be in her life and what is it that keeps him there?
With each new revelation in this complex love triangle, I can guarantee that your loyalties to each of the characters are going to shift. Is Adele quite the perfect wife that she appears to be? Does Louise really care if her relationship with David leads to suffering or not? Is David a self-absorbed dismissive monster, or are there legitimate reasons for his actions? This is where Behind Her Eyes really excels. In other hands, the plot could have easily devolved into a torrid soap opera-esque potboiler, but the writing is far superior to that. The author shines a light directly on the imperfections that lie within us all. We all know someone like Louise, David or Adele. We all know that life is a chaotic affair and personal relationships tend to the messiest part of that chaos. Choices lead to consequences and not everyone will like those consequences. Add to that a less than healthy slice of obsession and some acute paranoia, and you have the makings of a truly compulsive read.
I’ve always felt that Sarah Pinborough’s writing works best when she gets the opportunity to properly explore her characters. She has first rate observational skills, a handy skill for an author I’d imagine, and this transfers directly to her work. She is also very good at picking apart the inherent flaws that exist within us all. The plot the Behind Her Eyes reveals the fact that many are aware of but few ever manage to properly express – no one is perfect. We all live our lives in our own little bubble, often blissfully unaware of the world around us. The bubble is based entirely on our own perspective and preconceived notions. The big realisation? Everyone, and I mean everyone, is broken in one way or another. Attempting to achieve perfection only leads ultimately to pain. Louise, Adele and David are all trying to do what they each see as the right thing. Unfortunately, self-interest, pride and jealousy all have a nasty habit of getting in the way.
I’m sure there will be a whole host of reviews that will focus on the novel’s final denouement. I can fully appreciate why. It seems unlikely anyone is going to guess how the ending will playout. You might think you’ve got it, but I can assure you that you won’t. Being one hundred percent honest, even though the ending is very effective, I have to admit that I was far more interested in the build-up. I think this is the sort of book I could happily come back to in a few years. I would be keen to re-read it with a completely different perspective rather that going in cold. I want to know if I’ll be able to spot any clues that point to how the story resolves itself. I’m sure they will be in there if I look hard enough.
It is always fascinating to watch an author’s work as it continues to grow and evolve. Sarah Pinborough is the perfect case in point. Each new novel she pens proves her skill irrespective of genre. For me the novella The Language of Dying will always be a personal favourite as it is an emotive gut punch. Mayhem and Murder are a wonderfully dark historical crime duology but Behind Her Eyes is something entirely different. How best to describe Behind Her Eyes? A modern thriller that picks apart the human condition and features a perfectly executed twist within a twist.
Behind Her Eyes is published by Harper Collins and is available from 26th January.