Tattletale by Sarah Naughton
This review is in danger of sounding like a string of cliches but sometimes those expressions really are the only ones that completely sum up what I want to say!
This has been one of the most anticipated psychological thrillers of the year and one that I have been desperate to get to while it's been sitting on my TBR pile. The flip side of this is that there is always a slight sense of trepidation before starting the book as it already has so much to live up to! However, Tattletale took this on board and confidently showed me all that warrants the praise it has been receiving. Sarah Naughton wasted no time in showing me that indeed, she is a writer to look out for; she is a talented author and this is one very good book!
The book is organised into Before and Then and Now sections and focuses on Abe. Abe lies in hospital in a coma, brain dead following a huge fall from the top of the stairs. Our narrators are Jody, his girlfriend who is desperate to show the police it can not have been suicide because they were so happy together and Mags, his sister. Mags is a lawyer and has returned from the her job in Vegas to find out what really happened to him. She has returned as she is the next of kin but she has not had a close relationship with her brother and seems oddly detached from such a traumatic situation. We also hear from a few other voices as the novel progresses but I am wary of giving anything away .........Tantalising? Well, that is Naughton's most obvious talent! She is incredibly tantalising.
Naughton knows how to hook you in straight away.
"Blood doesn't look like blood in the dark."
I love a prologue - even though the opening is "Before" and not strictly a prologue, it opens with Abe's fall. There are no names mentioned at all and the third person narrative voice keeps it delightfully anonymous. And delightfully ambigious - another of Naughton's greatest skills! Yes, don't always expect to know exactly what is going on in this novel. It is full of unreliable narrators, some confusing plot twists and several layers of huge psychological twists and turns but ultimately the reward is huge and absolutely worth every moment of your investment as a reader.
There are several difficult to scenes to read - and even the opening chapters start with quite raw descriptions. It took me a while to root myself in the plot and side with the characters but I did. I think once the story settled into Mags' interaction with the police, Jody and the hospital I found myself really getting into the story and really beginning to enjoy Mags' voice.
Mags is feisty, confident and direct. When she first meets with the police to ascertain what happened to Abe and what is going on with their investigation, her training as a lawyer is obvious. She challenges them and shows her intelligence and her eye for seeing things differently or spotting other clues that might have been missed. I found these scenes of the victim's sister driving the investigation and almost interrogating the police really original and the total opposite from the way characters usually behave in this situation. No, Mags is a victim-not-a-victim and I think this is when I became truly fascinated by her character. I really couldn't wait for her sections and found her completely compelling throughout the entire novel.
"She's saved me from that guilt, and I should be on my knees in gratitude. So why aren't I? Because I'm a self-centred bitch, probably."
Mags can be blunt, but also insightful. She can be cold and callous but she can also show vulnerability. She's alone and keeps people at arm's length but she can harness some empathy and ultimately will "right" things. She's perhaps not always completely likeable or someone I'd like to spend a lot of time with in the real world, but I really enjoyed spending time with her in the novel. Something about her appealed to me, made her an original character and certainly a memorable one.
Naughton's writing creates very vivid scenes, characters and dramatic moments. Her writing is direct, focused and full of impact. It is also full of evocative description and phrases that are actually fantastic examples of imagery and insight but often so understated it is easy to miss them. They contribute to the overall feel of the book and ensure that the reader knows they are reading something very well written.
"The bed is made, but I'll have to change the sheets - if only to rinse out Jody's tears from the pillow."
I enjoyed her turn of phrase and her use of colours and observations of the human condition that snuck into the passages. Naughton can clearly write exceptionally well.
Naughton is also able to create very distinctive voices for the different characters from which she writes. She shows confident use of writing in the first, second and third person.
Jody sent a shiver down my spine from the start even though actually, she appears nothing more than harmless and we should feel deep, deep sympathy for her as she waits at Abe's bedside with more devotion than his sister. But warning bells to start to ring.
"....cheesy pop songs but suddenly every word meant something. It's such a perfect day, I'm glad I spent it with you. I still feel that Abe. Even now. Even in the hospital, watching you struggle to breathe, watching the machine pump air into your lungs. It's a perfect day because I'm spending it with you."
Hhhhmmmm. Definitely a character to keep an eye on! I can't really say more about her without giving things away but I think Naughton did a fantastic job of leading us up and down the staircase with this one!
The repetition of the words "From Abe. From Mags" which appears almost like a motif throughout the novel was so effective. These words are the only ones the siblings have exchanged in years and are from their Christmas cards. Simple. Seemingly detached and lacking in any kind of sentimentality, these words actually come to mean something quite powerful. I really liked that.
And the ending! With psychological thrillers we all talk about the twist, the turns, the unexpected rug pulling moment and all that we did not see coming but here, in Tattletale, it's all true! The complexity of the revelations and the deft skill with which Naughton manages the plot is impressive. There was only one word I kept thinking as I read the last quarter of the book and that was "Wow!"
Tattletale is a very original novel. It feels like a fresh interpretation of the psychological thriller genre and I have no doubt in my mind that this book will fly off the shelves and pronounce Naughton to be the next 'one to watch'. I'm certain she has a long, high profile career in front of her as a thriller writer and her fan base is already huge and growing daily. I will definitely be keeping my fingers crossed that this book does as well as it deserves.
Tattletale is published on 23rd March 2017 by Trapeze.
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