What if you realised the book you were reading was all about you?
In the last couple of years, we have been spoiled with an influx of what many would call the “psychological thriller” category of fiction—that meandering, unreliable narrative; something eerie and macabre lingering just beneath the surface of our author’s deceiving sentences, revealing fragments without giving us all the answers. Renée Knight’s debut novel Disclaimer gives us more of the same—but with a delightfully unique concept—and with good reason has the literary world been twittering with excitement. If you were reeled in by intensely gripping novels such as Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn and, more recently, Paul Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train, then you have just found the next book threatening to make you cancel all weekend engagements.
On the face of it, Catherine Ravenscroft lives an idyllic life: her and husband Robert have jobs offering high status and good pay; their marriage is both happy and secure; and Catherine’s only son Nicolas has left home and is doing okay—despite not quite living up to his parents’ high expectations. Ultimately, the future looks bright, with good prospects on the horizon and a newly-bought home to look forward to.
Appearances can be deceptive, however, and an unexpected storm cloud arrives as a deeply-buried memory from Catherine’s past resurfaces in the strangest way: a book left carelessly strewn aside in her home; one she’s never seen before. Inside, the usual disclaimer—“any resemblance to any persons living or dead is purely coincidental”—neatly crossed out with red lines. Turning the pages with trepidation, she realises her darkest secret—kept from all for many years—is not quite as safe as first believed: the book is unquestionably about that fateful time.
Knight delivers a well-plotted, slow-burner of a novel, where each decision the reader makes—every question and judgement—is suddenly re-evaluated just a few pages later. Is Stephen, our mysterious author—whose tale unfolds slowly alongside Catherine’s—an unsavoury character? A window and retired schoolteacher, whose anger is intense. The tension threatens to boil over at any moment, but Knight cleverly holds it back as the reader is made to realise a simple truth: that we all have flaws.
Disclaimer truly shows how easy it is for an apparently “perfect” life to unravel so quickly; how the best kept secrets can catch up with you and result in incomprehensible consequences. “Unable to put it down” is an oft-used cliché in the world of fiction, but in some cases, there is no other phrase that describes a book best. Knight’s teasingly good debut is one of those instances. Prepare to miss your stop on the tube as you hungrily devour the pages in search of elusive answers. Constant twists will keep your eyes glued to the page as if the words will disappear if you look away.
Get ready to be hooked right up until the dénouement, and long after the final page.