OUR LITTLE LIES by Sue Watson is a twisty psychological thriller tale told by an unreliable narrator par excellence.
This is how it begins:
“It’s the way he says her name that first alerts me. I’m buttering toast for the children when he says ‘Caroline…’ I don’t hear the rest, just the way his mouth caresses Caroline.
It’s hard to explain, but something tells me she’s more than a colleague. Perhaps it’s the way his tongue rolls languorously over the ‘r’, ending with a contented sigh on the ‘ine’.
I run the knife slowly along the butter as I look up and see her in his eyes. I know, I know, I haven’t a clue who this woman is and it’s stupid of me to jump to conclusions. I need more evidence than the sound of his bloody voice. But then again I know. I just know. I’ve known for some time; she’s been with us – with me – for a while. As yet undiagnosed, experience tells me these symptoms can’t be ignored. I can’t leave them to fester and bloom like cancer in my marriage.”
The narrator of the novel, Marianne, has struggled with depression and other mental health issues for most of her life. Her childhood was difficult and tragic, her world ripped apart by the shock of finding her mother when she committed suicide. Later, when her own daughter is born, Marianne suffers postpartum depression, and tragedy visits her again when infant Emily dies suddenly while in her care.
When the story opens, Marianne is a full-time homemaker, married to dashingly handsome cardiac surgeon Dr. Simon Wilson, and a devoted mother to his teenage daughter Sophie and two six-year-old twin boys of their own. She puts her artistic talents to good use around their home creating a magazine-worthy ambiance, and she cooks like a master chef.
On the surface Marianne appears to be leading an enviable life, ensconced in a beautiful home with a high-end German kitchen gifted to her by her husband and a lovely garden, in an upscale neighborhood. And surrounded by her boisterous twin boys Charlie and Alfie, her loving stepdaughter Sophie with whom she’s closely bonded, and her dynamic husband Simon.
But Simon is demanding, controlling, abusive, and cruel – knowing exactly where to stick the scalpels in her psyche. And Marianne, haunted by the tragic events of her past, is prone to anxiety, depression, and paranoia, which she takes daily medication to keep in check. Now Marianne is convinced that her husband Simon is having an affair with a young, beautiful fellow cardiac surgeon at the hospital where he works, and sets out to find proof.
Marianne starts monitoring Simon’s emails, and stalking Caroline online. And finds herself emotionally entangled in their torrid love affair, part desperate wronged wife and part avid voyeur. Things escalate and progress, and when Marianne’s relationship with her husband’s mistress deepens, disaster is only a heartbeat away.
The brilliance of this dark, twisty novel lies in the ingeniously crafted viewpoint of the unreliable narrator, Marianne. She suffers from mental health issues – depression, anxiety, paranoia – and is haunted by tragic events from her past. She’s heavily medicated and sometimes drinking as well, sleep deprived, and often confused. So confused that she frequently has a hard time distinguishing between what’s real and what’s not.
The author walks the line perfectly, immersing us fully and heartrendingly in Marianne’s foggy, madness-tinged world, and keeping us guessing until the very end. A fascinating, chilling experience you won’t soon forget.
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