The Unravelling: Children can be very very cruel (A gripping domestic noir thriller) UK ed. Edition, Kindle Edition
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A random incident - an apple falling into a watery drain - triggers a long buried childhood memory, and her quest to establish the truth behind it becomes an obsession which takes over her life. As Karen rediscovers her memories, we share them as they slowly take shape - and revisit her childhood with vivid scenes of her friendships, the people who featured in and shaped her life, and the incident that changed everything for ever.
The childhood memories are wonderfully drawn, and it's easy to share Karen's blissful happiness in being allowed to join the group of friends allowed to move in the orbit of the golden Serena Whinn. But there's also excellent depiction of the cruelty that children can show to each other, and the playground politics that can profoundly affect their lives and relationships.
The way the book is constructed is extremely clever - small incidents, scenes and exchanges, with a complex layering of truth and lies, right and wrong, that slowly, and very explosively, unravels. And the descriptions are extraordinarily vivid - Karen's garden flat overtaken by her obsession with books, her confusion as she rediscovers the geography of her childhood, stunning images of some of the incidents that provide the key to the story.
The characterisation too is simply superb. Not just Karen, but everyone who features in her life, both in childhood and the present day. The depiction of the children is particularly striking - every one clearly drawn and individualised, and it's simply fascinating to see all those quirks and traits magnified as we meet some of them again as adults. In the present day too, I loved Karen's relationships - her "lunch companion" Charlie, her observation of the people she works with, and her bookshop owner friend.
And I do hope I'm not making the whole book sound rather earnest, because it really isn't that at all. Karen has a wonderful self-deprecating humour and a clarity about her mental state, and keeps you firmly in her corner, however uncomfortable it sometimes is to be there. And the story itself, with its peeling layers of secrets and lies, is totally enthralling and quite perfectly paced - this is one of those books that haunts you for as long as you're reading, and stays with you long after you've finished.
I loved this book - but I'm guessing you can probably tell.
The Unravelling is a dark mystery/ thriller set in England. It opens with a churchyard scene, and then drops back to two different periods of time for Karen Rothwell, one when Karen is an adult and the other set in 1966 when she was a ten year old schoolchild.
Adult Karen is a mess, on medication and regularly under a psychologist. She is assigned a health worker monitor her bouts of depression, her eating habits and her distractions which cause trouble at work. Karen suffers from memory loss, she has blocked out a traumatic childhood experience for years. She escapes into books where she can be the heroine and lives their lives rather than her own.
On a cold bleak January day an apple from a broken shopping bag rolls away down a drain, as Karen scrabbles after it a lost jigsaw piece of memory slots into place and the locked memories begin to slowly unravel. Karen hides away at home, sketching faces as wisps of her memory return and raise more questions.
We are taken back to ten year old Karen and her love and admiration for Serena Winn, the most popular girl at school. The one who attracted friends like bees to honey, the angel of the playground. Serena could do no wrong and her friendship was a gift closely guarded by her loyal bullies. Yet Serena showed Karen kindness, where others shunned her.
Adult Karen believed that Serena held the key to her lost memories and so she searched for her, what she found was a shocking truth, with secrets and guilt hidden away. Her one strength was her determination to get right to the very bottom of what happened on that fatal day in 1966 which would affect her for the next thirty-five years.
Thorne Moore knows how to build up a tale with layers of tension for the reader to unpeel, this was a pleasure to read.
Unravelling her own private history, tortuously finding her way between real and suggested memory, her frail mental state means the reader can never be sure what to believe and can’t guess what the outcome will be. This is a clever storyline raising questions of guilt and responsibility. Who are the wicked here and who are the innocent, who in the end is the final victim? And who needs to know?
A satisfyingly complex thriller constructed from the outwardly ordinary. You think you know where you’re heading as you read, but you probably don’t.