Friday 7 March 2014

Unravelling Oliver by Liz Nugent

Oliver Ryan is a success story. 
He lives in the leafy suburbs with his wife, Alice, and their life is one of enviable privilege and ease - enviable until, one evening after supper, Oliver attacks Alice and puts her into a coma. 
Afterwards, as everyone tries to make sense of his astonishing act of savagery, Oliver tells his story. So do those whose paths he has crossed over five decades. 
Only Oliver knows what he has done to get the life to which he felt entitled. But even he is in for a shock when his past catches up with him.

Unravelling Oliver by Liz Nugent was published by Penguin Ireland on 6 March 2014.

"I expected more of a reaction the first time I hit her."

The first sentence of Unravelling Oliver is the shocking introduction to Oliver Ryan, one of the most disturbing, dangerous and manipulative characters that I've ever read about.  

From that very first sentence, the reader knows just what Oliver is capable of,  but we don't really know why he has attacked his faithful and loyal wife Alice.  Why would successful author Oliver (writing as Vincent Dax) brutally attack the woman who has been a perfect wife to him? The woman who has lovingly illustrated his books for children, only adding to their success?  Why?

Liz Nugent has expertly crafted this short, but stunning novel by weaving together the first-hand stories of the people who know Oliver best. Told in separate chapters, these characters are as fully formed as Oliver himself and each one of them has a story to tell.   Each one of them appears shocked by what Oliver has done, but it soon becomes clear as they recount their memories that Oliver was never quite the person he wanted to appear to be.

Unravelling Oliver could be renamed 'The Sins of the Fathers', for ultimately Oliver's character has been formed by his dysfunctional relationship with his father.  In fact, there was no relationship. Sent off to boarding school at a very early age and then ignored for the rest of his life, Oliver was a sad and lonely child who struggled to interact with anyone.  Being able to see his father's home from the school window was torture for him, especially as he witnessed his father's loving relationship with his new wife and new son.

Oliver as a man was enigmatic and charismatic, and successful.  He had many admirers, people who loved him, who wanted to be like him. Only Oliver knows why he chose to publish his hugely popular series of children's books under a different name.  Was he ashamed of his illegitimate status?  Did he want to forget where he came from?  Eventually, the reader will learn the full truth of Oliver's life, and it is truly shocking.

Each voice in Unravelling Oliver is a complete character in their own right.   Fully formed and with a strong voice that adds yet another perspective to this dark and complex story that is so elegantly written.

Unravelling Oliver is an excellent debut from Liz Nugent, I'm really looking forward to reading more from this very talented and gifted author.

My thanks to Catherine from Penguin Ireland who sent my copy for review.

Liz Nugent has written extensively for broadcast over the last ten years including live tv drama, soap opera, radio drama and a children’s animation series. 
Unravelling Oliver is her first novel. It is to be published by Penguin Ireland in March 2014 and is currently available in German under the title Die Sunden Meiner Vater published by Lubbe. 
She is currently working on her second novel, provisionally called Liars.
For more information check out her website, on Twitter @lizzienugent


  1. This sounds like a really powerful psychological thriller - I have resisted requesting a copy from Netgalley for a while because there are just too many books on my shelves at the moment, but the more I hear about this the more convinced I am that I will have to give it a read one way or another.

  2. Marie - stop resisting! Read it, it's fabulous, I'm positive that you will enjoy it x