“Imagine coming across yourself in a novel. A novel that exposes your darkest secret. A secret you thought nobody knew…”
This is the tantalising teaser on the back cover of the newly published debut novel by Renee Knight. I do tend to prefer thrillers, especially those in to which you find yourself drawn completely, without any idea of where the story will end. Disclaimer is certainly such a novel and one of the best psychological thrillers I’ve read in a long time.
I first came across the book when flicking through my mum’s copy of Reader’s Digest. The synopsis sounded intriguing and I pre-ordered it. Three days after picking it up, I’ve finished and it would have taken me less time, had I not had to leave the house! Thursday night also saw the launch party of the book at the wonderful London bookshop West End Lane Books in West Hampstead (the shop is always hosting readings with authors and is always worth a visit), which meant I was even able to meet the author and get my copy signed, which was lovely.
As for the story itself, Disclaimer introduces us to Catherine Ravenscroft, a successful documentary filmmaker, happily married, but who has a somewhat strained relationship with her 25 year-old son Nicholas. Her life is shaken when she finds a book in her new house – she does not remember buying it, or how it reached her but, on reading it, she realises that it is about her, taking her back to a time and a secret she has kept buried for years. The standard disclaimer “Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental..” is crossed out in red – someone is clearly sending her a message that they know her secret. At the same time, an elderly man, is grieving the loss of his wife Nancy, who seemingly knew Catherine’s past and for whom he is now determined to balance the scales and see his form of justice done.
I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. Crucially, it drew me in to the characters (all of whom are very believable) and the story very quickly and once the puzzle starts to grow deeper, the more I found myself unable to put it down. Renee’s style of writing is perfect for the story she set out to tell – the book alternates between chapters about Catherine’s life and that of the elderly Stephen, weaving the strands of mystery together, as we see glimpses of the past weaved between events of the present. Catherine’s chapters are also written in the third person, while Stephen’s are a first person narrative. Again this works well for the personalities and motivations of these two key characters, as Catherine is a little distant, closed off and somewhat of a mystery, while Stephen is more direct in what he desires, wanting to tell a story and the reader certainly feels he is speaking to them, which at times becomes a little unsettling.
I’ve seen comments from other readers who say that they did not like Catherine, but I didn’t find that was the case for me. As I read, I was intrigued to know her secret, but never disliked her and also believed whatever she had hidden had been buried to protect others, not herself. Perhaps the book also makes us think about our own attitudes to right and wrong, as I felt little sympathy with Stephen and could not agree with his vendetta, regardless of what the final truth of the story was.
As is the case with many successful thrillers recently (Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train, for example), the story only continues to unravel the further through you read. Just as you think you’ve worked out the plot, something diverts it in a totally different direction, which I love as a reader and Renee’s writing achieves this much better than other authors, while ensuring that the emotional tension builds as the book hurtles towards its conclusion.
I certainly recommend Disclaimer to anyone who enjoys the thriller genre and personally, although it is being spoken about in the same breath as The Girl On The Train, in my view, this novel is much more intriguing, emotional and less predictable and is a very satisfying read, which is likely to stay with you for quite a while after you’ve finished it.
Disclaimer is published by Doubleday and available from all the usual book retailers. For book fans in London, keep an eye of the upcoming book events at West End Lane Books on its website or via twitter (@WELBooks).