Renee Knight’s debut novel Disclaimer is undoubtedly one of the most talked about books so far this year. A psychological thriller that has been compared to recent bestsellers Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train. I was certainly intrigued by its premise. A woman picks up a book from her bedside table, only to find when reading that the events mirror her own life, including a secret she has kept from her own family for many years.
The novel alternates between third and first person narratives. The story of Catherine, who discovers the book is told in third person and is set in 2013. The story of Stephen is told in first person and starts off two years earlier. Catherine Ravenscroft is a successful woman, a documentary maker who is married to a loving husband – Robert, a lawyer. They have a grown up son, Nicholas whose life hasn’t quite turned out how they hoped. Stephen Brigstocke is a retired teacher, a widower and Catherine’s nemesis.
It opens with Catherine as she picks up a book from her bedside, to find the disclaimer – ‘Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental’ has been crossed out. To her horror she realises that she is the main character in the book. There are things written here that no-one could have known. How could they? Why would someone want to humiliate her in this way? The plot is certainly gripping as we gradually uncover events that occurred 20 years previously. Events which have left Catherine shaken, and put a strain on her relationships with her husband and son. Alongside Catherine battling her past we watch as Stephen’s story is told. As it is written in first person the sections of the book narrated by Stephen I found to be the most sinister and chilling. His desire for revenge was unnerving, and the reader really gets to see Stephen’s character develop. Conversely, Catherine seems to be quite distant and quite a frustrating character, I found it hard to have sympathy for her.
The key theme raised in this book is family. We see two families and two marriages and how one event had such an impact on all of their lives. It explores how we perceive our family and others. How a family that looks content from the outside can be deeply troubled on the inside. As the plot developed my perception of the characters was changing and what I thought I knew was challenged and I started to look at different characters in different ways. This was one of the books strengths; it has enough revelations and new details creeping through to keep up the interest.
In terms of writing style I found it quite frustrating at times. Some of it felt a little clumsy and certain scenes felt a bit too gratuitous and made for uncomfortable reading. On the whole though it was accessible and pretty easy to read and I can see this being a book that a lot of people can pick up, enjoy and get hooked into.
For any fans of psychological thrillers Disclaimer won’t disappoint. It is a gripping page turner that covers family relationships, love and revenge that will keep you guessing till the end.