Unraveling Oliver by Liz Nugent

Title: Unraveling Oliver
Author: Liz Nugent
Date Added: August 26, 2017
Date Started: January 21, 2021
Date Finished: February 26, 2021
Reading Duration: 16 days
Genre: Fiction, Adult Contemporary, Drama, Mystery, Psychological Thriller

Cover of Unraveling Oliver by Liz NugentPages: 260
Publication Date: March 6, 2014
Publisher: Scout Press
Media: Hardback (Library)

Oliver Ryan, handsome, charismatic, and successful, has long been married to his devoted wife, Alice. Together they write and illustrate award-winning children’s books; their life together one of enviable privilege and ease—until, one evening after a delightful dinner, Oliver delivers a blow to Alice that renders her unconscious, and subsequently beats her into a coma.

In the aftermath of such an unthinkable event, as Alice hovers between life and death, the couple’s friends, neighbours, and acquaintances try to understand what could have driven Oliver to commit such a horrific act. As his story unfolds, layers are peeled away to reveal a life of shame, envy, deception, and masterful manipulation.

A child that is not embraced by the village will burn it down to feel its warmth.

-African Proverb

If ever there was a story that exemplified the false dichotomy of “martyrs and monsters,” it would be Liz Nugent’s Unraveling Oliver.  Though I find it far easier to slide Oliver to the “monster” end of the spectrum, I would be disingenuous to deny him the same courtesy I so readily extend to (arguably) more malevolent actors, because another false dichotomy of “nature vs. nurture” still tells us monsters are not really born; they are made.

Each chapter follows a different character’s point of view in a similar vein to A Song of Ice and Fire taking us not only through Oliver’s past and present, but also into the histories of the people around him.  Almost every event in the novel revolves around the question of “what if?”  From Oliver’s marriage to Alice to the tragedies, lies, and misinformation that both ruined and shaped so many lives.

This is one of those stories where where you need to entertain what I like to call “multiple consciousnesses.”  Where you understand why someone is a particular way and you can feel sorry for their circumstances, but you can neither condone nor justify their harmful actions.  Abuse begets abusers, and at the end of the day, this novel is a tragedy that continues a cycle, though, ironically, the final lie is told with the express purpose of ending a cascade of trauma that began so many years ago.

5 stars.

Note: There was a planned full analysis of this story, but I can’t seem to gather my thoughts together in the proper way, and I’m just stagnating on it with an abundance of other reviews waiting in the wings. Eventually, I’ll come back to it, but there are too many other novels I need to review, so for now I’m putting the deeper delving of this on hold.

3 thoughts on “Unraveling Oliver by Liz Nugent

  1. Liz Nugent is a brilliant writer and loved this one particularly!
    I have read 1 star reviews of people who said Oliver was an unlikeable character. He is, in many ways, but we also find out why he is the way he is.
    Great review!

    Liked by 1 person

    • The book was excellent, and Oliver is supposed to be a complex character! You’re not supposed to like him per se; the novel’s goal is to present questions about how/why he got that way. My favorite characters are usually complex villains though so I think I had a bit of an advantage with this hehe.

      I really wish I could’ve posted the full analysis, but I’ve been working on the review for months, and I have so many more books to review so I had to sideline it for the time.

      Thank you so much!


  2. Pingback: The State of the Writer: 6/13/21 | The Shameful Narcissist Speaks

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