Disclaimer by Renee Knight
There's been an awful lot of social media hype about Disclaimer, a twist-laden thriller of bitterness and obsession - lots of comparisons to Gone Girl, The Girl On The Train and so on - and while it's a generally more straightforward novel than, say, Notes On A Scandal, it certainly delivers on tension. It's one of those books where we're constantly asked to question what we've assumed to be truths about the characters, and as such, it's far from easy to put down.
Catherine Ravenscroft is a successful documentary maker whose only child, Nicholas, has just flown the nest, apparently with some reluctance. A couple of weeks after Catherine and her husband Robert downsize to a smaller property, Catherine finds a book on her bedside table entitled The Perfect Stranger. And it's only when she idly begins to read that she realises with terror that the book is all about her - and could not only reveal her darkest secret, with a sinister, vindictive bias.
Increasingly, I've noticed that it's become de rigueur for novels of this genre to alternate between different points of view, and Disclaimer follows this model - primarily, we read about the insidious influence of the book (which details a shameful incident in Catherine's past that she's long kept hidden from Robert) from Catherine herself and from its writer, whose life was irrevocably damaged by the incident in question and has only recently become aware of Catherine's role in it.
Catherine herself is a smart, capable woman, we're led to believe, while her tormentor Stephen Brigstocke is lonely, bitter and struggling to come to terms with bereavement. Both types are fairly familiar in this type of fiction, and most of my enjoyment of Disclaimer came very much from its well-constructed plot rather than directly from its characters. This isn't to say that the characters aren't believable - I just felt as if I'd read about them before.
It is, however, interesting to watch them both disintegrate as events unfold. I wasn't convinced, at first, by Nick, who at 25 seems more like a sullen teenager, but as the story progressed I eventually came to understand why his situation and behaviour were entirely credible.
Disclaimer is also a book about family relationships: between husbands and wives, and parents and children. The tension between what we think we know of our loved ones and what they've hidden from us - or what we've chosen not to see - is always a solid grounding for fiction, and works brilliantly here. Some of the revelations faced not just by Catherine and Stephen but by their respective families are startlingly painful, and the characters' reactions are convincingly handled.
I have seen Disclaimer described (by the utterly delightful writer of women's fiction, Marian Keyes) as 'grippy' and she is absolutely right; this is one of those books that you'll want to tear through in as few sittings as possible. If you read this on a train journey and arrive at your destination before you've finished, you'll slightly wish you'd been delayed.