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.