Tony and Susan by Austin Wright
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
The novel that inspired the 2016 major motion picture Nocturnal Animals, starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Amy Adams, is a dazzling, eerie, riveting thriller of fear and regret, blood and revenge.
Many years after their divorce, Susan Morrow receives a strange gift from her ex-husband. A manuscript that tells the story of a terrible crime: an ambush on the highway, a secluded cabin in the woods; a thrilling chiller of death and corruption. How could such a harrowing story be told by the man she once loved? And why, after so long, has he sent her such a disturbing and personal message...?
This is a story within a story; after 15/20 years of no contact with her ex-husband out of the blue Susan receives a copy of his manuscript asking her to read and review it as she was always her ex-husbands best critic. She reads this over a 3 day period while her husband Arnold a doctor is away at a conference. As the story unfolds Susan becomes fascinated by the drama and this is interspersed with her reactions and flashbacks of her life with her ex-husband Edward and comparisons of her present marriage to Arnold.
Edward comes across as a weak and selfish man, he expected his wife to work while he 'found himself' as a writer but we get the impression that he doesn't have much talent and that Susan becomes bored with his self obsessed vanity as a writer while she has to work to keep their heads above water. While he was busy feeding his fantasy of being a great author she was lonely and took solace in the arms of a neighbour who's own marriage was falling apart due to his wife's illness. When she confesses to Edward he seems devoid of all emotion and they eventually divorce and go their separate ways.
Marrying Arnold seems to me something that Susan just did and as the novel progresses we find her questioning just why she did marry him. It seems that Arnold has been having an affair for some time and though she knows about it she appears to accept it. She seems distressed that after all this time Edward has got in touch and wonders why he sent her the manuscript especially since he said something is missing but he's sure she will know what.
Tony (in Edwards' novel) is an academic who cannot or will not come to terms with the death of his wife and daughter and his cowardice on the night of the incident when he was unable to fight for them both. It seems that Edward is telling Susan that he could not or would not fight for her until it was too late. For her part, Susan is beginning to wonder why she chose cheating Arnold and questioning whether she should have stayed with the weak and unemotional Edward.
The novel within a novel moves along at a fairly good pace in the beginning but then looses impetus and for me held few surprises and had a weak ending. The story of Susan, Edward, Arnold triangle though interesting didn't really go anywhere, the ending was a damp squib and I felt that I had invested time to read it and felt a bit cheated when there was no satisfactory conclusion in either 'story'.
The characters were a bit flat, of course we don't get to 'know' the wife and daughter as they are killed off early and I didn't warm to weak Tony, arrogant Arnold or really with indecisive Susan so the only thing really keeping me going was a curiosity as to whether the murderers were caught and what happened to them but again this was really not very satisfactory. It was also a little dated, this was first published in 1993 when mobile phones and such technology was not around and this really does show in modern day readers expectations, I found myself thinking 'why doesn't he just call the police on his mobile'.
It was different and to a point interesting but for me it lacked a killer punch and it was not really the thriller genre it was billed as. It's soon to be made into a motion picture and perhaps it will translate better as a movie, as a novel it just seems to be lacking and I can only give this a 3 star rating. The characters were so hollow that I really didn't care towards the end.
I would like to thank the publisher for sending this in exchange for an honest review.