Unravelling Oliver – Liz Nugent

Published 9th April 2015 by Penguin Books UK


Liz Nugent’s gripping novel of psychological suspense, Unravelling Oliver, is a complex and elegant study of the making of a sociopath in the tradition of Barbara Vine and Patricia Highsmith. Oliver Ryan is a handsome and charismatic success story. He lives in the suburbs with his wife, Alice, who illustrates his award-winning children’s books and gives him her unstinting devotion. Their life together is one of enviable privilege and ease – enviable until, one evening after supper, Oliver attacks Alice and beats her into a coma. In the aftermath, as everyone tries to make sense of his astonishing act of savagery, Oliver tells his story. So do those whose paths he has crossed over five decades. What unfolds is a story of shame, envy, breath-taking deception and masterful manipulation. Only Oliver knows the lengths to which he has had to go to get the life to which he felt entitled. But even he is in for a shock when the past catches up with him.

Liz Nugent has worked in Irish film, theatre and television for most of her adult life. She is an award-winning writer of radio and television drama and has written short stories for children and adults. Unravelling Oliver is her first novel.

My thoughts

 ‘Unravelling Oliver’ takes us into the world of a successful author, who appears to have it all. One day, he calmly attacks his wife, in what appears to be an unprovoked assault. He has no remorse, no compassion and no conscience. Alice is left in a coma. As a reader, this is where you start to see that Oliver is a sociopath.

The story continues to be narrated by a collection of characters, who comment on their surprise at what happened. They fill in the gaps of Oliver’s life history. Their statements read like interviews. We get to know Oliver and see the events unfold, that led to the attack on Alice.

This is a book about secrets. Oliver’s secret made him kill.  I found him a lovely evil character. And rather endearing. A damaged man who has some rather weird and wonderful comments to make on the world.

This book begs to be read in one sitting, at speed. A gripping and dark debut, about a rather sharp tongued sociopath.

Thanks to Penguin Books UK and Netgalley for my review copy!


About Northern Crime

Reviewer with a mind of her own. This is a collection of book reviews, which started in 2014. Mostly crime and odd other genres thrown in. Some I loved. Some I loathed. You get the picture.
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7 Responses to Unravelling Oliver – Liz Nugent

  1. Kay says:

    Ah, another good one by the sound of your review. I can’t keep up and want to read them all. LOL

  2. crimeworm says:

    I know Kay! Christine must speed-read! My daughter is reading this at the moment in the hope she’ll contribute a younger person’s view to the book, for my review, and she’s loving it. I better get a move on reading it. The idea is to do Tana French – The Secret Place after that; I thought she’d like that. But wow, comparisons to Barbara Vine and Patricia Highsmith – THE two best psychological writers ever! I’m up for that! What’s next? I think you’ve read everything! I wish I was so organised. I need to cut my reviews down, as they take 3+ hours to write. Which is ridiculous, as I could be reading – that’s the best bit!

    • Christine says:

      I’m looking forward to your review, Linda and seeing what your daughter has to say!

      Erm I have that Death in the Rainy Season and What She Left to finish. I’ve Jane Isaac’s calling out to me very loudly and that thriller I was sent by Karen at Orenda (forgotten its name). I want to go off on a tangent though soon and read Patricia Highsmith, a few Lynda La Plante and the first Tana French.

      I never spend three hours on a review ever. At most an hour. Less maybe.

      • crimeworm says:

        I didn’t request What She Left – I don’t think! The thriller – Abrupt Physics Of Dying – is quite “masculine” – sort of like I’d imagine that SAS guy who hides his face’s books are like – except better. Lots of drinking whisky (which doesn’t seem to affect their ability to drive jeeps or shoot) and patching oneself up from horrific injuries! It is good, I’ve been reading it in the loo and I’m page 200+, because I worried I’d never tune into it for long periods sitting in my bedroom. Death In The Rainy Season is a good enough police procedural but as it’s set amongst the ex-pat lot you don’t really “get into” the country, which was the appeal for me. Still, a series worth watching – I got the first one, so I’ll see how it goes. DO read Patricia Highsmith! I’ve got a few, and I’ve read more, picked up second-hand over the years. I know short stories aren’t everyone’s cuppa, but she has one collection called Eleven and it’s utterly brilliant! I enjoyed In The Woods, and I’ll discover the Prime Suspect book soon on World Book Night! Yes must cut down on time on reviews, not least as I’ve a backlog heading into double figures! Now this What She Left is bugging me – I can picture the cover, girl with hair over face, but I wonder why I was put off it, if indeed I was? Though I really shouldn’t go near NG! xx

      • Christine says:

        Oh yes ‘The Abrupt Physics of Dying’. How could I forget that title? I have a terrible memory for titles/names. That sounds great. I like a hero who can patch up his wounds, Die Hard style and like James Bond take on villains after a tipple or two.
        I’m really getting into ‘Death in the Rainy Season’. It’s my kind of read. My mum is an ex-pat around that bit of the world and it just gets the atmosphere spot on… I will deffo get into Patricia Highsmith now. And you are in for a treat with Prime Suspect for World Book Night. I love Prime Suspect and cannot wait for Tennison to come out this year.
        ‘What She Left’ is getting mixed reviews on Goodreads. Its a marmite book. Maybe you were put off by the description. It’s different because its an investigation into a murder based on their social media and diaries/letters. I’m only a little way in….:)

      • crimeworm says:

        I think it’s a really distinctive title, but I can see how it could also be forgettable…How cool your mum lives somewhere exotic! I’d love to have got more of a taste of life for the natives, but then he wouldn’t be involved in the investigation! It is a pretty good police procedural. I am looking forward to Prime Suspect – I’ll probably be converted and buy the whole series. I quite like the sound of What She Left – I like stories told in epistolary form, and I do enjoy books that break up the text with e-mails, newspaper stories, texts, reports, interviews – it’s a bit of variety! I find when I have books in egalley form, my mind goes blank as to what it’s all about, as you’ve often no cover to remind you, and certainly no blurb…I need to get through a pile before requesting more but it’s so Damon tempting – I’ve still some left from when I started blogging! I told my friend Eilidh about it, though she just reviews on GoodReads and Amazon – I’m trying to persuade her to start a blog, but it’s fantasy she loves – and the next day she pm’d me on FB and went “Oh my God! Twelve books I’ve been approved for! Thanks so much!” So hopefully now she’s got the bug she’ll start a blog too. I always forget how bright she is as she’s so young – she’s already got a degree, it’s in Gaelic!!

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