The internet ruins everything. Sometimes the kinder sites about movies, television shows and books will state in bold letters SPOILERS, meaning if you read ahead be prepared for something to be ruined. Those are the polite ones. Other sites seem to revel in spoiling books and movies for people so that you’re half way through an article and then: boom! You find out one of your favorite TV characters died in last night’s episode that you haven’t even watched yet. The only thing the internet is good for is for looking at pictures of puppies and kittens and dads getting hit in the nards by four-year-olds armed with whiffle bats.
I had heard the hype surrounding Sarah Pinborough’s Behind Her Eyes: that the book was one hell of a trip and that once you think you have it figured out you’ll find out you don’t. At all. I purposefully ignored reviews about the book because I knew someone would let something slip and that would be it. That’s why my book blogs are frustrating to write because I want to write about everything that happens but without giving anything away. I can write about Behind Her Eyes without giving anything away. Readers, you have GOT to read this book. What? I have to write more about it? I can’t just say “Read this book. You won’t be sorry?” Geez. Okay.
Louise is a single mom to six-year-old Adam. She’s divorced (her husband left her for a younger woman) and works as a secretary in a psychologist’s office. Most nights she drinks wine at home while watching television but one night she decides to go out and meets a man in a bar and they have an instant connection. Or their bodies do. They have a fumbled kiss or two and that’s it. She fully expects to never see him again.
One of the psychologists in her office retires and a new doctor gets hired. You guessed it. The new doctor is the man she met at the bar and made out with. She’s mortified because he’s married. He and his wife come into the office for a tour and Louise hides in the bathroom. Sounds like something I would do. Then again, I often hide in the bathroom for various reasons so there’s that.
David, the new doctor, tells Louise that he made a mistake, that he’s a married man and he and Louise do the adult thing where they decide to just be co-workers. There’s still an undeniable attraction between the two but Louise has talked herself into being okay spending her nights tucking her son in, drinking a bottle of wine, and then falling asleep only to be woken by night terrors.
In case you don’t know what a night terror is, it’s this: extreme fear while still asleep. People scream, throw their arms around, sometimes they feel as if they can’t move but are still aware of everything happening around them. For Louise, night terrors mean waking up in odd places like beside her sleeping son’s bed staring down at him and not knowing how she got there. The terrors exhaust her and the broken sleep (and bottles of wine) are taking a toll on her.
One day after walking her kid to school, Louise runs into a woman and knocks her down. It’s David’s wife Adele whom Louise recognizes from pictures on David’s desk. Adele is an ethereally beautiful woman with a fragile air about her. She and Louise become tight friends although Louise feels guilty, especially when David comes over one night and yep, they both give in and become lovers.
Adele and Louise meet up constantly for lunch or for a workout at the gym. There’s a lot of wine drinking. I mean A LOT. I don’t drink wine but after reading this book I felt like going out and buying a giant bottle and drinking the whole thing. Then again, the people in this book drink good wine whereas I would feel like I’m splurging on Boone’s Farm.
Adele doesn’t want Louise to tell David they’ve become friends and Louise knows there’s no danger of that. Louise confides in Adele about her night terrors and Adele says she has them too and has had them since she was a little girl. 15 years ago when she was 17 a fire destroyed half of her family’s estate house and killed both her parents. David saved her, burning his arm badly in the rescue. Adele had a breakdown after that and was committed to a ritzy mental institution for a month where she met a young boy named Rob who was in for heroin use. They become closer than close and Adele taught him a technique she learned from a dream book about how to control dreams. He can go anywhere his brain tells him to go in his dreams, she says.
Fast forward almost 15 years and Louise is learning how to control her night terrors thanks to Adele. Her affair with David, meanwhile, is still ongoing and both of them are falling in love with each other. But there’s a coldness to David that scares Louise. One day she sees that Adele has a large bruise on her face. She says that she opened a cupboard door and it smacked her. Louise is suspicious of this. It’s obvious it wasn’t a cupboard door. Did David hit Adele? He can be so cold and he has a drinking problem.
And then there’s the weirdness with Adele always having to have the phone nearby when David calls to check up on her. There’s a cupboard in the kitchen full of pills prescribed by David (antipsychotics, antidepressants, anxiety medication). Enough to make Keith Richard’s heart soar. Or stop. Louise is starting to put together a picture of fragile Adele bullied and medicated by David. She berates herself for falling in love with such a man and still being attracted to him.
Louise has managed to direct her dreams to where she wants them and is no longer having night terrors. It gives her an odd boost of confidence. She breaks things off with David deciding to focus on her friendship with Adele but there are times she wishes she could just dump both of them and have that mess out of her life.
Oh you guys, just when you think you can see which direction this story is going and feel disappointed that the rave reviews were all wrong, the novel takes such a sharp turn you feel like you’ve slipped down a muddy embankment into a pool of murky water filled with bobbing skeletons. Sorry. I just watched Poltergeist the other day and that scene is on my mind. I felt a pang of disappointment reading along and thinking “So this book’s about a lonely single mother who gets it on with a married man but befriends his wife and she has no idea which one is insane? That’s the story?” No. That is so NOT the story. One blurb I read about Behind Her Eyes was right: You will not see the ending coming.
Read this book if you want to wake up at 3 AM, haunted by the ending. I haven’t slept in three days and I’m hiding out in a bathroom.