Hardcover, 384 pages.
Release date: February 12th 2015.
Rating: 2½ out of 5.
Source: Received from publisher for review.
The sensational new psychological thriller from the bestselling author of Before I Go To Sleep ...She loves her husband. She's obsessed by a stranger. She's a devoted mother. She's prepared to lose everything. She knows what she's doing. She's out of control. She's innocent. She's guilty as sin. She's living two lives.She might lose both ...
We’ve all heard of that difficult second album, right? But what about difficult second books? Well, those exist too, and it just so happens that today I’m talking about such a book. I don’t take pleasure in writing (mostly) negative reviews; especially when the review happens to be for a book I was really, really looking forward to reading, but here it is. I didn’t enjoy this book. Not at all. Well, for a while right there in the middle, it looked as if there was maybe some hope of redemption for S.J. Watson’s highly anticipated follow up to the multi-selling Before I Go to Sleep, but then it all fell apart in the end. I actually wondered if my review copy (an Arc) was an unfinished copy of this book – in that it was missing, oh, maybe two, three chapters - but no, I’ve checked against the final copy, and the ending there was just the same. It might just be a matter of personal taste, but the early reviews for this book have been very hit and miss, and now I know why.
Second Life introduces Julia, a photographer, as she grapples with the shocking news of her younger sisters’ murder. People grieve in all sorts of different ways, I know, and there is method to Julia’s madness when she forgoes therapy to instead sign up to an online dating site frequented by her sister. Julia’s aim is to track down her sister’s killer via this site. This seems not only like a total shot in the dark, but also a pretty stupid thing to do – because why would you want to put yourself in the line of sight of a possible killer? But, hey, let’s just go with it. This is one of only a dozen or so stupid things Julia does in this book, by the way. The first hundred pages or so of this novel are dedicated to Julia; her pleasant-if-boring-to-her life with her surgeon husband and their fifteen year old son, and her flashbacks to a time when her life was not so boring, but in fact wild, dangerous and drug-fuelled. Yes, Julia has a wild side, and we soon see that side when her chat room sessions become less about solving the mystery of her sister’s murder, and more about cybersex with a guy called Lukas.
Julia buys Lukas’s story hook, line and sinker, and totally falls for him too as she’s drawn into his increasingly seedy world. Now, I’ve never dallied in the online dating world, but I’m pretty sure that everyone knows there are a lot of weirdo’s out there and it’s a really bad idea to divulge intimate details of your personal life to strangers – virtual or otherwise – right? Well, everyone but Julia, it seems. Julia is forgetful. She lets things ‘slip’. Things like her husband’s name, and her surname, oh, and her son’s name too. Seriously. I mean, it’s pretty clear to us that whatever kind of online life Julia’s sister was living, it wasn’t exactly wholesome, but Julia – she just waltzes right into the middle of that big ‘ol mess, and pretty soon she’s meeting Lukas in various hotels, and doing the wild thing. Uh huh. Julia is a mess. She’s also unpleasant and needy – and she’s certainly one of the dimmest characters I’ve ever encountered in a book.
I almost put this book down once or twice. The first hundred or so pages are so slow moving – but I will say that the book does pick up somewhere in the middle. For a while, as the tale was woven, and despite some choppy writing, Second Life was a somewhat entertaining page-turner, and came close to being an okay/borderline good read. Then, the ending. Okay, if the first part of this book was a marathon, then the final third is a Usain Bolt sprint. So much going on. I guessed the ‘who’, but not the ‘why’ and I’m not sure I could have, really, as some of the plot twists at the end of this book are so implausible, so far-fetched, and sometimes so without foundation as to be eye-roll inducing. Second Life is a case of ‘well, that was a plot twist too far,’ and it’s a plot twist too far that makes this book less riveting psychological thriller, more comedy of errors. As for the ending itself, well, I’m just going to stop right here, because I don’t really have anything nice to say about that at all.
This one was mostly a miss for me – but I’ll be kind and say that maybe it’s just an acquired taste. Second Life might work for you – but only if you can turn a blind eye to Julia and all of the really stupid decisions she makes.