B.A. Paris’s latest novel is a page-turning domestic thriller with two unreliable narrators, love triangles, and a whole lot of bacon. Twelve years ago, Finn was in a passionate relationship with Layla, a young, free-spirited red-head from Scotland with a tragic past. On a trip to the French countryside, Finn and Layla have a terrible argument which leads to Finn blacking out in a rage (something which he has been known to do from time to time). When Finn comes to his senses, he finds himself in a public bathroom on the side of the road, and Layla is not waiting for him in the car, and he can’t remember what happened. The reader is then moved forward to the present, where Finn is engaged to Layla’s more sincere older sister Ellen. Both Ellen and Finn have acknowledged that Layla has most likely died, but as the wedding date comes closer, Finn finds the smallest in a set of Russian nesting dolls strategically placed for him and Ellen to find. The significance of this doll is only known to Finn, Layla and Ellen. Is it possible that Layla is back, and that she is angry at the impending nuptials?
This book was a thrill ride and my eyeballs couldn’t read the words fast enough. While reading I felt afraid for Ellen and Layla, disgust and irritation at Finn, and a general sense of panic and anxiety out of the desire to have these many loose ends tied up. Normally when I read a thriller or a book that is dark in nature, I tend to prefer an ambiguous ending. With this book, I don’t think my poor heart could have handled a disappointing denouement. I needed to know what happened to Layla, where she was for those twelve years, and what all of the other side characters and red herrings had to do with the rest of the plot. The way Paris mapped out these different characters and plot points is brilliant, and it made for a satisfying read in the end.
Warning: spoilers ahead!
The novel is divided into three parts, the first of which alternates in perspective from the main character, Finn, in the time of the events of the novel, to Finn looking back on “Before,” that is, before Layla went missing. From the very beginning of the book Finn is set up as an unreliable narrator: “...the statement I gave to the police… It was the truth. But not quite the whole truth (p. 7).” Finn is trying to reconcile the past events he experienced with Layla with his present with Ellen, all the while trying to stay afloat in the sea of lies that he has had to tell in order to get to where he is now. At this point the reader gets to evaluate how reliable Finn really is. Is he truly so emotionally unhinged that he could kill the woman he loved and not actually remember it? Can the reader believe that Finn ever tells the truth?
Once the reader enters Part Two, and learns Layla’s version of events, a whole new level of unreliability comes into play. While it is clear that Layla has been the victim of multiple acts of violence in her life, it is also apparent that as a result of that trauma, her mind began to unravel at a young age. Acts of violence committed against her have both had an impact on Layla’s sense of identity, as well as her sense of the capabilities of the male gender. Because of her emotional makeup, Layla is motivated by revenge and a twisted form of love to get revenge on Finn for everything he has done to her.
In the final portion of the book the reader is only given Finn’s perspective. Part Three is the point at which Finn puts all of the clues together, although he still gets it all wrong until his friends show him the letter from Layla that explains everything, including her past, before she met Finn, as well as what happened to her on the night she went missing. Sadly, by this time any hope for a future Finn has with either Layla or Ellen has become impossible. After pleading with Layla to meet with him for most of the book, hoping to get an explanation from her, Finn is finally given the explanation he has been seeking, only to have followed through on the action that he was afraid he had committed in a blackout rage twelve years ago.
As a bonus, this book featured some unexpected food scenes. Many of the interactions that occur between Finn and Ellen, and Finn and Layla, occur within the context of a meal. Interestingly, one of the main comparisons that Finn makes between Ellen and Layla is their style of eating. Ellen is muesli, Layla is bacon and eggs and sweetened tea.At multiple points in the novel, Finn is either eating, about to eat, or goes out to buy bacon. Though I’m not a doctor, I can pretty much guarantee that a 40+ year old man eating that much bacon is not recommended by medical professionals. I’m not sure how many times bacon was mentioned in the book, but it was enough to give me a major craving for a BLT!
Disclosure: This review was made possible by the generous gift of an advanced reader's copy from St. Martin's Press.