Second Life by S. J. Watson

I read S. J. Watson’s debut, Before I Go to Sleep, on a long-haul flight – perfect choice because I couldn’t put it down. The ‘thriller’ section of the bookshelf is not my usual hunting ground and I’m not overly familiar with the conventions of the genre – it’s fair to say I’m easily ‘thrilled’. And although these books are rarely ‘believable’ in the true sense of the word, I expect them to be convincing enough to mess with my mind – that’s the point of the psychological thriller, isn’t it? What I don’t expect is to be rolling my eyes. Hard. Or muttering “Who is that stupid….?” Which brings me to Watson’s second novel, Second Life.

It’s the story of Julia, a woman who traded her chequered past (living in a squat, dubious boyfriend, drug abuse) for a stable life with Hugh, a surgeon. Julia dabbles in photography, and devotes her time to raising a teenage son and being a ‘good wife’. When her sister is violently murdered, Julia takes it upon herself to discover why. Things get untidy – an online relationship; a rediscovery of her love for wine; sex in seedy hotels; and a cat-and-mouse chase – all in the name of finding her sister’s killer, of course.

Second Life is the worst kind of thriller – the motivation for each character is flimsy and the actions of Julia so impossibly stupid that they defy belief. Add a few handy coincidences to the flimsy and stupid and the sum total is an extremely disappointing book.

Julia’s simplistic, self-destructive behaviour is attributed to grief and although a generous reader might accept that, the calculated and violent actions of Julia’s lover, Lukas, are difficult to justify (that’s the thrillery bit). And after slogging through 425 pages to discover Lukas’s motivation, the answer may make you pitch the book across the room.

1.5/5 In summary, I spent 200 pages of this book annoyed, 200 pages bored, and 25 pages thinking the publisher was negligent letting this go to print.

A lemon syllabub is served at a plot-changing dinner party.


19 responses

  1. Sounds like this is one ill pass up. I may dl a sample from Amazon, just cause I’m curious to see how bad it is. But the last thing I want is a book that “annoys” me. You haven’t headed me in the wrong direction yet. I’ve so many books on my Kindles, ill read one you’ve loved and recommended. We tend to agree. I’ve got so many Kindle books, their monetary value is worth more than mine!!! Why waste them and my time battling thru a book I’m not loving. At age 66, if I don’t pretty near love it, at least, it’s “on to the “next”.

    I’m not sure that this is entirely off top as in your review the words “psychological thriller” we’re used, which immediately brings to mind “The Other Typist”. It’s been a long time since I read the book as well as all the comments and discussion about it that I could find, and I’m still not satisfied and would love to discuss the book more. I can’t decide if I loved the book or not. Based on the ending. I have to say that the ending confused the hell out of me. But, I’m still thinking about it! So, my ? to myself is……..does the fact that I still think about that book and its ending make it a book I love, or……does the fact that the ending totally confused me and left me feeling confused and frustrated make it a book that disappointed me and totally messed up at the end in a very unexpected way. (At least for me.).

    • I count The Other Typist as a psychological thriller and like you, I yo-yo between loving it and hating it, simply because of that crazy ending! Interestingly, the ending of this book was ambiguous as well – lots of Goodreads reviewers complained about the ending – it didn’t bother me that much in this instance, probably because by the time I got the end, I didn’t care!

    • Ha! I’m the same – I love reading reviews of books that people either hated or claimed was the best book they’ve read all year! Must admit, I wasn’t as thorough as I usually try to be when I hand out a one-star review but in this instance, I was exhausted and didn’t want another moment thinking about this book!

    • I didn’t mind Before I Go to Sleep – as a light thriller it ticked all the boxes (but again, as I don’t read many thrillers, I don’t have lots to compare it to). But Second Life? Terrible. I really should have abandoned it (only continued to see if what I suspected was correct).

  2. I don’t think this is for me. I’m not a big thriller reader & I trust your conclusions! I’ve not read Before I Go to Sleep but I saw the film last week on TV. I liked it up until the big twist, then it sort of fell apart into standard thriller fare. It sounds like the book is better?

    • For once I won’t add to your TBR stack – the film of Before I Go to Sleep was better than the book I reckon. There was a necessary repetitive element in the story which worked better (and created more suspense) on film. I also thought that for once, Nicole Kidman was well cast. Give the book a miss.

  3. I’m completely with you on these two. Thrillers aren’t my usual territory either but I read Before I Go to Sleep on holiday after being sent a proof and thought it was very clever, although it owes quiet a bit to Christopher Nolan’s film Momento, I think. Second Life made me want to hurl it across the room.

    • I haven’t seen Momento but Before I Go to Sleep, as a book to read in one big gulp, was terrific (I don’t recall the writing being particularly good/or bad but I was genuinely surprised by the plot twists). So where did it all go wrong this time around?? There were simply too many elements in this story which meant too many convenient coincidences to tie up all the threads. Ridiculous.

  4. I’ve seen similar comments from other reviewers that this is a poor follow up. I sort of enjoyed Before I go to Sleep though there were some plotting aspects that didnt strike me as credible. the new one I can safely ignore now

  5. In my opinion it was worth reading that book purely for the fact you could include a Lemon Syllabub recipe link in your review. I’ve never heard of the Lemon Syllabub, but I feel like I need to try it.

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