Francis Iles, when reviewing this title, for The Guardian wrote that it was:
‘An accomplished, original, and slightly disturbing first novel about a somewhat hysterical young woman given to blackouts, who did not know whether she had thrown her psychiatrist out of the window in one of them or not. Nor will the reader, until the very end.’
This snippet is used as the blurb for my edition of the book, and I can see why, as it does do a good job at giving a nutshell view of the story without revealing too much. I will try my best to follow suit.
Sally Baxter, our muddled protagonist, is something of a Russian doll, with the narrative progressively peeling back the layers, for her as well as the reader, in getting to the root of her problems. The surface level issue of a love affair gone sour is soon relegated to the side lines, and Butterworth is adept at concealing the secret at the core of Sally, right until the very end. We get clues here and there, but I don’t think the ending is one you can easily anticipate. Sally is an interesting example of a mid-century unreliable character. She’s not quite a narrator, though the text does alternate with passages written more from her point of view.
I agree with Iles in finding this to be an unorthodox mystery, as its’ plot does not run along conventional lines and despite having read a fair amount of mysteries, traditional or otherwise, I found this to be a book whose direction and trajectory I could not particularly predict, which is not a bad thing. It’s nice to find a novel which keeps you on your toes and Sally’s possible guilt is very much up for debate throughout the tale. That said, the narrative gets slower in the middle and at points I felt there was not enough tangible evidence to hold on to. However, just as my enthusiasm was beginning to wane, as Sally’s disintegration does get a little depressing at this juncture, Butterworth turns it around. If you wanted to describe this change in direction with onomatopoeia the word Bam! comes to mind. His book is definitely worth reading until the end, as the finale certainly achieves high impact. I particularly enjoyed the several reversals involved, and in my opinion, has the ingredients for a TV adaptation which would probably suit modern tastes quite easily. Not that this will happen, of course, so I will have to consign it to my increasing list of books-which-should-be-adapted-instead-of-yet-another-poor-quality-Christie-one.