I almost abandoned this book right at the start, because at the very beginning of the book a man hits his wife and then beats her into a coma. It didn’t take the beating to make me want to turn away – the single blow was enough. Hitting a woman is an unacceptable, unforgivable offence. Looking back, I’m horrified by the thought of what I would have missed. There have been a few great moments in my reading life – times when I read something that changed my view of what makes a good book. Wind in the Willows when I was eight. Children of the New Forest two years later. It thinned out after that but in 1985 there was Every Day is Mother’s Day by Hilary Mantel and in 1996 I was stunned by John Lanchester’s The Debt to Pleasure. Unravelling Oliver brought the same sense of shock as the Lanchester book and the same certainty that here was a writer to follow as I had got with that first novel by Hilary Mantel. This is a tour de force. The story is convincing, the motivations are assured, the author is in control of her material from start to finish. A stupendous read. If you read only one book this year, make it this one.
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