Nocturnal Animals, Austin Wright

Nocturnal Animals.jpg

Love. Death. Retribution.

Susan Morrow and Edward Sheffield divorced fifteen years ago. Now a house-wife and mother in Chicago, married to Doctor Arnold Morrow, she one day receives a letter and a manuscript from her ex-husband, asking would she like to read his first book?

A compulsive worrier, Susan assumes that Edward’s getting back in touch means that there will be some hidden meaning in his story: “a new twist in their dead romance”. She’s surprised, intrigued and hesitant, but finally sits down to read the manuscript over a three day period.

The manuscript, Nocturnal Animals, is a thriller which follows Tony Hastings’ journey after a highway ambush, and the kidnapping of his wife and daughter.

Susan reads, as we all do, with the hope of taking herself out of and away from her own reality, so she’s unpleasantly surprised to find more of herself in this novel than she would have liked.

 

I really enjoyed most of this book and appreciated Wright’s consideration of the interconnection between real and invented worlds, and the relationship between the reader and the writer.

However, I wouldn’t call the book a thriller.

It didn’t have the expected or anticipated twist that a thriller needs. Even in the manuscript, I was waiting for something to happen. Some big twist that makes you throw your hands to your mouth and shout “OH!” in shock and realisation.

But, I don’t think that this is the author’s fault.

My expectations were founded on the way the book has been recently advertised. For me, it’s definitely more literary fiction, focused on Susan’s compulsion to read and her fear of reading, and this is the part that, in my opinion, is done really well.

The conceit at the heart of this book is intellectual and stimulating: reading the book alongside Susan, even if she is neurotic and passive, means that our reactions are her reactions, our thoughts are her thoughts. We are the reader.

It’s also a book about revenge. The manuscript itself seems enveloped in it, as well as the strange relationship between Edward and Susan. However, I think that their relationship was left unexplored and the focus on the eventually pretty average novel that Edward wrote, meant that their complicated past (and indeed complicated present) was unfortunately left behind, to the detriment of this novel.

Overall, although I felt slightly disappointed when I had finished this book (because it was missing the cheap thrill I expected), I really enjoyed reading it. It’s given me a lot to think about, which can only be a good thing, in my opinion.

 

Have you read this? Let me know what you thought in the comments below!