Review: Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough

Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough

Genre: Domestic Thriller

A darkly twisting thrill-ride. One of those rare reads that lures you in and keeps you guessing right until the end.

When handsome, charming David approaches Louise in a bar, she doesn’t expect him to be married. Nor does she expect him to be the new psychiatrist at the clinic where she works as a secretary. Or that, upon discovering all this, she’ll end up sleeping with him anyway. And she certainly doesn’t expect to become best friends with his wife, Adele.

But Louise finds herself drawn to the couple in a way she can’t explain, and the more she learns about them, the more convinced she becomes that there’s something sinister going on. With her, David is romantic and considerate, but she can’t help noticing the way he’s always checking up on Adele, and she’s seen the cabinet of pills he prescribes her, which surely isn’t ethical. And there’s the small matter of him controlling Adele’s inheritance…

However, Louise also knows that Adele’s had problems in her past. That David once saved her life and that she loves him with almost frightening intensity. That she’s only ever had one other close friend, Rob, whom she met at a treatment centre following her parents’ death when she was seventeen. And that Rob, like Adele and Louise suffered from night terrors.

But nothing about Adele and David (or their marriage) is quite what it seems, and Louise soon finds herself caught up in a sinister plot where the end goal is unclear and she’s not sure who (if anyone) she can trust.

Behind Her Eyes (HarperCollins, Jan. 2017) is a darkly twisting thrill-ride. One of those rare reads that lures you in and keeps you guessing right until the end.

The story grips from the beginning with Pinborough steadily building suspense and intrigue throughout. Cliche as it sounds, Behind Her Eyes is a book to get lost in. I read it in two days and felt annoyed every time I had to put it down. It’s utterly absorbing. I could find a bunch of nitpicking criticisms, but I’m reluctant to do so because as a reader I want to be enchanted first and foremost (and when I pick up a domestic thriller, that’s really all I’m looking for). Anything more is a bonus. And by that simple metric, Behind Her Eyes is a solid five-star read.

Also, the mechanics of Pinborough’s writing are almost as intriguing as the story itself. She has an easy, fast-flowing prose style—the kind that makes you forget that you’re reading—and she’s a meticulous plotter. Every. Detail. Is. Relevant. It’s kind of magical just watching her fit all the pieces into place. The atmosphere is intense and claustrophobic, and Pinborough works with a limited cast of characters—none of them entirely trustworthy.

Pinborough also infuses her narrative with an element of whimsy, which was a welcome surprise. In flashbacks to Adele’s teenage years, she’s a tragic, orphaned heiress living (like a ghost) in the burnt-out ruins of her family’s vast estate while she waits for her farm boy lover to finish university and come rescue her. It’s terribly romantic, but also unsettling. She’s so utterly dependent on David, and there’s something Gothic and morbid about a traumatised teenager living amid the damage of the fire that killed her parents and very nearly killed her.

While Behind Her Eyes is wholly enchanting, Pinborough offers more than just good storytelling. She gives readers a narrative in which nothing is as it first appears and, in doing so, challenges traditional gender roles and also warns against judging people and relationships by their appearance. She nods towards Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca (mother of all domestic thrillers), especially in the relationship between Adele and Louise. The symbol of the burning house is also key to both texts, as are questions about gender and identity, and both authors reimagine the domestic sphere as a battleground for female archetypes to wrestle it out. In fact, I wondered if Pinborough was consciously writing back to (and springing off from) the key ideas du Maurier explores in Rebecca. I REALLY want to write more about this, and about one idea in particular, but I’m worried I might start giving away clues about The Big Twist.

And the twist is the selling point of the book. Or, at least, that’s what the publishers are pushing. And boy, are they pushing it. The book’s official hashtag is #WTFthatending. If you ask me, they’re running the risk of overhyping it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great twist, but what makes it a great twist is that Pinborough gives her reader all the clues they need to solve the puzzle, so at the end you get this, ‘but of course! Why didn’t I see that coming?’ moment. In fact, I guessed it about twenty pages before the big reveal. And honestly, that’s infinitely preferable to a twist like, say, the one in Gone Girl where you know something’s up but there’s no way to figure out what because the way that twist works is by Gillian Flynn changing the rules halfway through the game. Her narrator isn’t just unreliable; she outright lies. It’s lazy and gimmicky and feels like cheating. It is cheating. By contrast, Pinborough clearly establishes the rules of her story’s world, and she plays by them. Everything is (subtly, brilliantly) foreshadowed and the reader has a fair chance of putting all the pieces together.

Overall, Behind Her Eyes is clever and compelling, an utterly gripping and thoroughly entertaining read.


See Behind Her Eyes on Goodreads and purchase through BooktopiaBook Depository or Amazon.

Thank you to HarperCollins Australia for providing a copy of Behind Her Eyes in exchange for an honest review.

Thanks also to Grammarly for picking up two critical issues and one advanced issues in my draft of this review. If, like me, you have trouble with typos, do give Grammarly a go!

—Margot XO 

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