Tuesday, March 07, 2023

Dymphna Nugent’s weekly book review for the Waterford News & Star in conjunction with The Book Centre, John Roberts Square

NEWCOMERS to Sarah Pinborough may likely have seen the hit series on Netflix starring Eve Hewson, ‘Behind Her Eyes’, based on an earlier book by Sarah Pinborough. If you have, then you’ll have an idea of what to expect where her work is concerned.

From the outside, Emma has the dream life – a loving husband, a beautiful house, two gorgeous children. But something is keeping Emma awake. Scratching at her sanity at 1am. She’s tried so hard to bury the past, to protect her family. But witching hour loves a secret – and Emma’s is the stuff of nightmares.

Most of us take sleep for granted, at the most a little tossing and turning may occur, but we eventually drift off. In Emma’s case, she drifts off with the aid of a glass of wine and a sleeping tablet but without fail, she wakes at 1.13am. Tendrils of a song drift cobweb-like through her waking mind, a song she can’t quite reach, one she knows but can’t seem to recall.

A good night’s sleep will refresh the body and the mind, it will set us up for the day, but the lack of sleep chisels away at our sense of well-being. Lengthy bouts of insomnia will cause thoughts to become dulled and incoherent, organisational skills to suffer, and eventually the mind begins to suffer.

Emma cannot break down, not only is she about to become partner at her legal firm, she is about to turn 40. That number is not one which people usually approach with trepidation, but for Emma, it matters a great deal. When her own mother was 40, she suffered a psychotic breakdown and tried to smother Emma’s sister during her sleep. Years later, Emma’s mother is an inpatient in an institution and that period of life remains one which Emma buried, not telling her husband or her children. To them, Emma’s mother died a long time ago, and their life has been moving on track in that knowledge.

A fear begins to curl around Emma, a crippling fear that the blood which runs through her veins is ‘bad blood’, tainted with the same problems which destroyed their family all that time ago. As she nears her own 40th birthday, the insomnia intensifies and the fear becomes overwhelming. She finds herself leaving incoherent notes for her secretary in work, she hears frantic whispering when nobody is there, and most frightening of all, she is accused of standing over her son at night with a pillow in her hand.

The delivery of the story is perfectly timed, with the reader held until the very end. This can be frustrating in a novel laced with red herrings, but not this one, it is sinister and chilling, and it raises the question of our own capabilities when running on next to no sleep.

I was late getting to this book but it is worth switching the phone to flight mode, finding a quiet spot and cracking the spine on the book because it is absolute perfection.

Dymphna Nugent contributes reviews to the Waterford News & Star, the Irish Times, and the Irish Examiner

By Dymphna Nugent
Contact Newsdesk: 051 874951

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