#DontCloseYourEyes #Holly Seddon #Review
This is a novel about two sisters, twin sisters, Sarah and Robin. The novel alternates between Sarah's first person narrative and Robin's third person narrative. It also alternates between the present day and the past, starting in 1989 and then slowly moving forward year by year to trace the lives of the girls; gradually revealing the complex, dysfunctional family life of Sarah and Robin and gradually revealing why they are struggling so much in their present.
Robin can't leave her house. She never sets foot outside the door. Her day is made up of patterns, an enforced routine which she believes keeps her physically fit but more importantly keeps her in control. She watches her neighbours from the window and lives vicariously through them, displacing her own anxieties and experiences on to their lives.
Sarah has no home. Kicked out by her husband and denied access to their toddler, Sarah is desperate to get her daughter back. But she has a dark secret, a past that is catching up with her and it is time for her to confront some of these issues if she can ever get her family back again.
The dual narrative and the dual timeline make this novel very compelling. The chapters are short and flit backwards and forwards, between both women and between the present and past. I was immediately hooked, almost overwhelmed with questions about both characters and devouring the suggestions, allusions, hints and tensions that Seddon sprinkles across the opening pages.
Seddon implies that something darker, something more tragic has happened in the past as Sarah refers to her lies that "spill out of her like blood". Robin refers to her packing cases, still stored in the house from when she first moved there, as she is unable to let "their grief spill out into the room". It's impossible not to want to know what has happened to these women to make them so damaged, so emotionally crippled and so full of secrets. It's impossible not to want to find out why they are telling lies, why they are so full of grief, what happened to them and why they are unable to negotiate their way through their present life. But there's no sensationalism. There's nothing unbelievable or contrived about what is happening to these characters. To me it felt like they were the victims of circumstances and I felt frustration on their behalf as well as empathy and sympathy.
There's no preamble in Don't Close Your Eyes. We are thrown into the womens' lives and from the beginning I immediately engaged with Sarah and found her situation very emotional reading. Sarah's husband is confronting her with a list - a list of reasons why she can no longer be a part of his life and no longer be the mother to their young daughter. There are seven things on the list which he explains over several chapters but each time Sarah is able to explain them to the reader with a voice that seems honest and an explanation that any mother, anyone who has parented and anyone who has been sleep deprived or under pressure can relate to. Seddon really stirred up my emotions and very cleverly evokes the feelings of a young, first time mother. The writing is incredibly engaging and captivating.
"It took about two months to really slide into cliches - hardworking man who just wants some peace and quiet when he gets home, frazzled woman, alone all day with the endless demands of a child."
I really responded to Sarah's observations and thoughts about how it is impossible to "be your best self in these conditions" and also her insight about today's parenting which is reliant on "gentle and reasonable negotiation." Yes, I was firmly in Sarah's corner and immersed in her distressing situation of being thrown out of her family home and seemingly wrongly charged by her husband on seven counts.
But I am not naive and I am well versed in the world of psychological thrillers so it wasn't long before I began to question the reliability of the narrators. Or begin to wonder what impact their strange, complex family life was having on them now. I did trust the narrators but I was becoming wary of them. Although as more and more is revealed about their parents, their parent's behaviour and then the psychological traumas the girls lived through my relationship with them becomes more complex and more full of questions.
I was intrigued by Robin and her obsession with the neighbours whom she has renamed Mr and Mrs Magpie. She watches them, she puts words in their mouths and she sees it as her responsibility to save them from the "inevitable". When we see Robin in the past, she is strong, vocal girl who is not afraid to challenge the adults. When we see her as an adult she is paranoid, weak, completely trapped both physically and mentally. Robin can't fix her own life but she sees it as her duty to fix that of the Magpie family. As the novel hurtles along, bringing the past, the present, Sarah, Robin and all the revelations about their brother and their parents to a head, the danger and threat that Robin has unwittingly caused in the Magpie household also soars to a jaw dropping, breath taking denouement.
Ah, I have so much I want to talk about! And so much I can't say without spoiling it for any readers!
I think this book is absolutely outstanding. It absolutely blew me away. I was entranced. I was utterly transfixed by it. I couldn't look but couldn't look away at some of it and when I had finished I was completely speechless. It took me about twenty minutes before I could rejoin the real world but even now, the characters have not left me.
There are some very effective twists and revelations in this novel. There were some moments that if this were a film, would have a cinema audience gasping in unison. But to me, talking about the impact of the twist and turns does the novel a disservice as there is much more to it than that. This is a multilayered novel which has some incredibly well crafted characters and an incredibly well managed storyline. The collision of all the threads is masterfully handled. I loved the first two thirds because I was so engrossed with the characters and I loved the last third because it was so tense and delivered so many punches. Seddon has the drama, the twists the jaw dropping realisations, the flawed characters, the dysfunctional families and all the ingredients to call this a psychological thriller. Don't Close Your Eyes is fast paced and tightly structured but it also takes its time to explore several themes and issues. It has a great plot but it is also a novel about two impressive and very well crafted characters.
This is a novel that rivals "I Let You Go" but should not be seen just as a psychological thriller. This book considers mental illness, parenting, family relationships, violence, abuse and what it really means to be normal and what it really means to help someone.
I genuinely loved this book and I genuinely found it a powerful, compelling and fascinating read.
Don't miss Don't Close Your Eyes when it publishes on 6th July with Corvus.
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