If you loved The Girl on the Train you’ll love this…
Those of you that have read my last two reviews might wonder why I picked up a copy of Disclaimer by Renee Knight since it was emblazoned with a sticker recommending it to fans of Girl on a Train, since I am anything but.
(If you haven’t read my Girl on a Train review you can find it here. In short, it’s ok, but over-hyped)
I’ve actually had Disclaimer in my sights for a while now since Claudia Winkleman recommended it a few months ago. It was the premise of the book that sold it to me.
Imagine reading a novel and discovering that the story is actually about you. A story from your past that threatens to destroy the present and predicts your horrific death, pushed from a bustling underground platform.
That completely sold it to me, but it took me a while to getting a copy. When I finally got hold of one, I started it with a little trepidation. A book with a premise that really appealed to me, but pitched at fans of a book that I didn’t enjoy made me nervous. Would it live up to my expectations? Would I go into the book expecting not to enjoy it?
The story is told alternately by Catherine – our main character who discovers her life in a book – and by Stephen, a retired teacher whose wife Nancy has recently died.
The interesting thing about this book is that Stephen’s sections are told in the first person, and Catherine’s are told in the third person. As such, we never really know what Catherine is thinking and she remains distant to the reader, whereas we know everything that Stephen knows, he’s not hiding anything from us.
It means we empathise with Stephen immediately, while our sympathy for Catherine is stalled by what is perceived by us to be her coldness.
I completely understand why it’s been written in this way, over the course of the book it causes us to re-evaluate what we think of the two characters, but I do think it detracts from the fear that Catherine feels. We’re never truly inside her head, never really experiencing the fear that she is, while we do feel the grief that Stephen feels.
There’s one section where Catherine is on the underground waiting to catch a train and she starts to fear being pushed under an oncoming train (the ending of the book about her) – which is tense, but could be so much more if told purely from her point of view.
I think that’s my one criticism of this book – the choice of structuring it this way is a trick to make us take sides, to make sure we don’t learn the truth of what happened too soon.
But it stops us from really connecting with someone whose life is in danger. For me, it slightly takes away from the urgency.
I’m not saying that both parts should have been written in the first person, or both in the third – but the contrast between the two styles in this book is purposefully designed to stop us knowing Catherine too much, but the trouble is, it stops us from caring too much as well.
It’s a small criticism – I wanted more from that one scene, I wanted a heightened sense of danger – but other than that, it’s a great book. It’s much better than Girl on a Train, and has an ending that ties up all the characters into a place where we feel sorry for them all. None of them are bad, none of them are good, they’re all human, and they’ve made mistakes.