Novelist and screenwriter Sarah Pinborough is on the rise. One might say she’s at — if not nearing — the height of her powers. She’s written traditional horror novels, young adult books, and even Torchwood novels for the Doctor Who property. The film rights to her YA thriller Thirteen Minutes were recently snatched up by Netflix. Pinborough is even a Cape London Wine brand ambassador, thanks to tweeting with the company.
There are so many parallels I could use to describe Behind Her Eyes; for film fans who love Hitchcock, DePalma, and Fincher, this book will be right up your alley. For those who love a good Gillian Flynn or Patricia Highsmith tale, ditto. I expect Pinborough to explode with this novel — Flatiron Books has launched a major publicity campaign, so it seems they feel the same way. Their #wtfthatending social media campaign just might work. And on the cover of my advanced reading copy, Joe Hill is quoted as saying: “A masterfully engineered thriller that brings to mind Hitchcock…this is the kind of novel that takes over your life.”
I agree with Joe.
Behind Her Eyes is a page-turning opus that will be easily devoured by readers in any environment, whether that’s shut in during a rain or snowstorm, on a long bus ride, or as a salivating beach read. But truthfully, this book will draw you in no matter your plans, and it won’t let loose until it’s finished with you. You might even read it in two sittings, like I did.
Like Flynn’s Gone Girl, Pinborough’s Behind Her Eyes features a massively dysfunctional husband and wife with lots of secrets. Adele and David have moved to a beautiful house in London for a fresh start, and he’s got a great new job to look forward to, as well. David is handsome and brilliant, and Adele is movie star thin and beautiful in addition to having inherited quite a bit of money when her parents perished in a fire on their estate.
As if that black mark on Adele and David’s past isn’t bad enough, he begins an affair with Louise, one of the receptionists at his new job. While they met in a bar prior to the workplace, they carry on the secret affair after he shows up at her apartment after work. Louise is touted as the opposite of Adele — “plump” compared to Adele’s extreme thinness (probably a normal weight in reality), blonde to Adele’s dark hair, and a struggling single mom to Adele’s rich housewife.
In the meantime, Louise and Adele become close friends, and Louise becomes more and more entangled in Adele and David’s disturbed marriage.
Louise must traverse Adele’s fragility and David’s controlling behavior, but also the rage and sadness she feels when her ex-husband’s new paramour becomes pregnant. Her son’s resulting trip to the French coast to bond with Louise’s ex (who’d left her when their son was a toddler) and his new woman nearly tears her apart. This leaves her in a vulnerable position wherein she’s more and more manipulated by possibly not one, but two sociopaths.
There’s lots of talk and practice of lucid dreaming as Adele teaches Louise techniques to escape and interpret her nightmares and night terrors. There’s a subtle supernatural element that comes into play here, but I can’t say much about it without giving anything away.
It’s difficult to review a book such as Behind Her Eyes because there are so many things — harbingers, twists, and horrible developments between characters — which I’d feel bad spoiling. I will say that there’s much to unpack here, and the more I think about it, the more I can see how many layers there are to peel back. This is one of those novels where you’ll see the butterfly effect take place quite effectively — but only in hindsight, which is part of Pinborough’s particular genius.
The novel is told from the points of view of all three main characters. Some readers and editors dislike these kinds of jumps, but rarely are they pulled off as well as in this book. There’s not one, but two endings — the second of which you’ll probably never see coming as it’s so deliciously downbeat and unexpected.
More of this, please! I think I’ll be going through Pinborough’s back catalog to see what other madness she’s cooked up. If you’re looking for a gripping thriller, Behind Her Eyes is an assured novel from an author about to hit the big time.