I don’t often read thriller novels; mainly, I get around to them thanks to book club picks. I also emphasized in my review of The Woman in Cabin 10 that thrillers, for me, are best consumed as audio books. A line like “Oh, my god” can read so flatly on the page when a narrator can read it with shudders in her breath to suggest the terror in her heart. When I discovered Behind Her Eyes, I wasn’t even looking for a book. That Scottish powerhouse, Irvine Welsh, whom I follow on Twitter, Tweeted that everyone should read Sarah Pinborough. I asked him which books I should read, as I’d never heard of her, and, in true Welsh fashion, he bombarded me with Tweets containing the titles of his own books. Salty, that one. I did get Behind Her Eyes from the library, and I did choose the audio version. The novel proved to be dramatic, compelling, and unique.
Though there are less than a dozen characters in the whole novel, the focus is on three people. The novel begins with Louise, a single mom who laughed and had a good time with a man she met in a bar the night before. They kiss before the man says he can’t “do this.”
That man is David, and Louise learns the next day that he’s her new boss just arrived from Scotland — with his wife.
David’s wife is Adele. She maintains her fitness, cooks gourmet meals, and cleans her whole lovely house out of pride. She’s easy to like at first, and I felt bad for her. It sounds like David is abusing her by keeping credit cards and cell phones from her, and she doesn’t have a job. The signs of abuse cement Louise’s determination to befriend and “save” Adele — while she’s moved on to sleeping with David.
Later in the novel (I’m not sure how far in, as I was listening to the audio version), we get sections entitled “Then.” These are flashbacks to when Adele was in an institution at age 17. She befriends a teenage junkie named Rob, who makes her laugh. Adele is sweet and eager, and we learn she’s known David her whole life. They’re already engaged.
The voice actors really made this novel special. Published by McMillan Audio in 2017, Behind Her Eyes included the following voice actors:
- Anna Betinck
- Josie Dunn
- Bea Holland
- Huw Parmenter
It’s not common to have so many voice actors in audio books. Usually, one person changes his/her inflections to indicate different people. But I found the various narrators to be wonderful. One woman with a more “scattered” sort of “hot mess” sound to her voice plays single mom Louise. Louise tends to bemoan her bad luck in the beginning, and I felt she sounded strangely like Bridget Jones. As the book progresses, Louise’s voice becomes more assured, even though she still weighs her choices more than most. Of course she is: she loves her friend, she loves her friend’s husband. Who does she love more? This voice actress does a spot on Scottish accent when David speaks in her Louise chapters.
A second voice actor plays Adele, the physically fit, beautiful wife in the carefully-maintained home. She loves her husband, David, more than anything in the world. This voice actress uses a silky smooth tone, like syrup pouring onto pancakes. She is the confidence Louse lacks. Eventually, she sounds like a slinky trouble-maker, and it’s not clear that David really is the abuser I thought at first. This voice actress doesn’t capture David’s Scottish accent as well, though David doesn’t talk nearly as much around his wife as he does Louise.
Since Louise’s and Adele’s voices are acted so differently and have different voice actors, it’s easy to follow the chapters, which switch points of view back and forth between these women. Both are in first-person point of view, which made sense for the novel. The publisher made excellent choices for the talent.
The last two voice actors were hard to figure out. The 3rd female voice actor must be the one who reads the flashback chapters to Adele’s time with Rob in the institution. Honestly, her voice wasn’t different enough to me to realize she was a different person. She sounded like she could be the voice actor playing Adele if that actor spoke a bit differently. Yet, these scenes are 3rd-person, not first-person.
The fourth voice credited is a man’s. Where does he fit into this book after it has established the back and forth of two narrators plus flashbacks? It’s almost a spoiler to know a man is coming to tell part of the story!
I always thought thrillers were supposed to proceed at break-neck speed, but Behind Her Eyes remains consistent. We never race ahead; we’re never dragging. There are reliable switches among Louise, Adele, and the flashbacks, separated by chapters, so that we never go too long and forget what’s happening with any one person or scene.
The plot was the best part because there wasn’t one big twist that I tried to guess the whole book. And the problem with one twist: if the reader figures it out early in the novel. No, author Sarah Pinborough drops some clues, I realized what she was laying down, the moment was revealed — and that in itself is ridiculously exciting — and then new clues were given to build up to a new thing to realize. I thought a lot about it, and the best metaphor I can use is multiple orgasms. There, I said it.
Let me put it this way: three days ago I couldn’t stop listening to Behind Her Eyes, but I felt guilty for sitting down for so long. So, I walked around the campus of the University of Notre Dame (in 80 degree weather). About three hours later, sweaty, dehydrated, sunburned, legs shaking, I collapsed back into my car and cranked on the A/C.
Go get yourself the audio book of Behind Her Eyes.
*Margot over at Lectito also reviewed Behind Her Eyes. You can check out her review in which she makes some comparisons to Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca.