There are already some 2016 releases that are dominating the book chatter on my social media timelines, including The Widow by Fiona Barton, Shtum by Jem Lester, The Trouble With Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon and Look at Me by Sarah Duguid. There is an incredible buzz around these titles thanks to the fantastic publicists behind them and I am thrilled to have early copies in my possession to review in the next few months.
The first one to make its way to the top of my to-read pile was Look at Me, a subtly unsettling tale of a family absorbed by grief and the collapse of their lives as seen through the eyes of an unexpected stranger forcing her way into their home.
Two years ago Lizzy's mother died and her life has been pretty much standing still ever since. She still lives at home, though Lizzy and her brother Ig have their own small units in the garden, detached from the main house, and her acting career has stalled as well; no matter how many auditions she goes to and how carefully she watches her figure, Lizzy never manages to get that elusive lead part.
Now nearly in her thirties, Lizzy's life is very small and is spend going into town for auditions and trying to make the endless hours at home feel a little less menial. Until one day she finds a letter that tuns her mundane life upside down and forces Lizzy to revisit memories about her parents and the way she and Ig have grown up.
The letter is from a woman by the name of Eunice, and Lizzy discovers that she is a half-sister from an affair her father had when he was already married to her mother. Morbidly curious, Lizzy decides to write to Eunice, which leads to them meeting up and ultimately to Eunice visiting her father and half-siblings at their home in London, with disastrous results...
Eunice entering into their lives has a quietly unsettling effect on the story as from the moment her needy personality collides with that of the still grieving family, they're forced to see their lives through the eyes of an outsider, which exposes the cracks in the fake perfect memories their brains have conjured up to be able to deal with the grief of losing their wife and mother.
Not only that, but Eunice's instant dependence on her newly discovered family has suffocating tendencies, and rather than bringing them all closer together her skewed attempts at making everything better is only forcing a rift in a relationship that never even had a chance to grow. She comes across as very needy and irritating, but then again none of the characters in Look at Me are particularly likeable, which is what makes this such a fascinating exploration of family, loss and emotional connections.
From the moment Eunice made an appearance I felt something sinister lingering in the background of the pages and this feeling never went away, which made this an at times uncomfortable yet also intriguing read. Focusing on self-absorbed characters, Look at Me isn't the most enjoyable read in the literal sense of the word, but it's certainly an incredibly engrossing one and well-worth exploring.
The theatrical themes running throughout also add to its uniqueness and combined with the eloquent writing and unsettling nature of the story this forms a novel that will undoubtedly inspire many passionate discussions in 2016.
Many thanks to the publisher for a copy of the novel in exchange for an honest review.
Look at Me will be published on 25 February 2016 by Tinder Press and you can pre-order the novel now from Foyles or your own preferred retailer.
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