Friday, February 27, 2015
Second Life by S.J. Watson
Julia Wilding, middle-aged wife of Hugh, is enjoying her safe, albeit somewhat boring, life when her world is upended by the death of her estranged sister, Kate. The sisters had been extremely close in childhood but things had become ugly between them lately when Kate wanted Julie and Hugh to return her son, Connor, whom they had adopted when Kate could not take care of him after he was born. Before that issue could be resolved, Kate is murdered in an alleyway in Paris...and that's when the trouble really begins.
Julia, a recovering alcoholic and former heroin addict with a bit of a wild past herself, is completely unhinged by Kate's brutal death, and becomes obsessed with finding out who killed her and why. When the police don't seem to be following up on the case to her satisfaction, Julia decides to take matters into her own hands and begins by contacting Kate's former roommate, Anna, to find out what Kate had been doing in the period before she was murdered. Julia discovers that Kate often used an online web site to chat with or meet up with strange men...and that's when Julia completely goes off the rails.
Deciding to pretend to be her dead sister, Julia uses Kate's ID to sign on to a website and meets a younger man. They begin chatting, and Julia, emotionally fragile and insecure, is immediately drawn in by the excitement and danger of the illicit sexual interaction, and begins a physical affair with Lukas...and that's when the story line veers off the path and becomes a tawdry cycle of unbelievable actions by Julia and convenient co-incidences that are meant to ratchet up the suspense but that only left me shaking my head in amazement that anyone could make those choices! Sure, Julia might have been in need of much more than ho-hum sex with her staid, steady surgeon husband, but it seemed that her decisions were always the ones that anyone with sense just would not make. I was wondering if some of the scenes were influenced by "Shades of Grey" as the affair continues despite the obvious danger Julia has put herself and her family in. Julia becomes mired in a situation out of control when the affair escalates into something that she can't seem to get out of, but things are not exactly what they seem. What has Julia done? And when the excuse that she was just trying to find her sister's killer no longer is the point, what can she do to stop what she has set in motion -- OR is there something else, even more diabolical going on here?
The book is divided into five parts and the description above is just the set up. I won't say anymore about who does what to whom or the startling, and very "disturbing conclusion" that left me shaking my head in disbelief. Julia is a very hard character to like and the reader is sucked in -- all the while knowing this is going to be a train wreck. Although I had predicted the twists to some degree, I must admit that I couldn't help but race through the book, unable to put it down as it reached the climax. There have been a lot of books lately that are described as psychological suspense, and to some degree that's true here, but it was hard to buy into some of what Julia did and the reader gets tired of being inside her head with all her issues and past. I kept on reading, despite those misgivings, and am glad I finished the book despite the lack of resolution at the end.
I chose this because I had read this author's previous book, Before I Go to Sleep: A Novel, and enjoyed it well enough, so wanted to read another. I think there is an overabundance of this type of novel out there now, and it's getting harder to shock and surprise readers with twisty tales and unreliable, flawed narrators, but I think many will probably still like this one.