Book review: Anna O by Matthew Blake

Sunday, February 4, 2024 Permalink

Anna O by Matthew Blake borrows its title from the pseudonym of a patient who inspired (or at least influenced) Freud’s origins of psychoanalysis. Of course the character in this book is referenced thus as she either has resignation syndrome (a withdrawal from life – which IS a real thing), or is faking it to avoid murder charges. Also… her name is Anna (Ogilvy).

This book has been pretty hyped so my expectations were heightened. I received an early copy while at the Theakston Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate last July. I’d expected big things as a result so held off reading it until just before the Australian publication date in early February 2024. And it has to be said my thoughts on it changed many times over the course of its 440-ish pages.

Book review: Anna O by Matthew BlakeAnna O
by Matthew Blake
Published by Harper Collins
on 01/02/2024
Source: NetGalley, Publicist
Genres: Psychological Thriller
ISBN: 000860780X
Pages: 447
four-stars
Goodreads

Anna Ogilvy was a budding twenty-five-year-old writer with a bright future. Then, one night, she stabbed two people to death with no apparent motive—and hasn’t woken up since.

Dubbed “Sleeping Beauty” by the tabloids, Anna’s condition is a rare psychosomatic disorder known to neurologists as “resignation syndrome.” Dr. Benedict Prince is a forensic psychologist and an expert in the field of sleep-related homicides. His methods are the last hope of solving the infamous “Anna O” case and waking Anna up so she can stand trial. But he must be careful treating such a high-profile suspect—he’s got career secrets and a complicated personal life of his own.

As Anna shows the first signs of stirring, Benedict must determine what really happened and whether Anna should be held responsible for her crimes. Only Anna knows the truth about that night, but only Benedict knows how to discover it. And they’re both in danger from what they find out.

Although Ben is ostensibly our main character, chapters are also narrated by his wife (a cop who was the first on the scene following the murders in 2019) and someone called Lola (aka Suspect #8 who was present at the murders). We learn more about Anna via her diary (held by Lola) and also dip into Broadmoor Psychiatric Hospital case files from over twenty years earlier.

The study of sleep (and what we’re capable of while sleeping) is Ben’s passion so he’s the perfect therapist for Anna O. Essentially he believes resignation syndrome patients will wake if there’s a reason to do so. He talks about giving them hope, so showers Anna with music, scents, books and pleasant memories from her past. And… #spoileralert she wakes up. Of course that’s when Ben is supposed to hand her over for trial.

However things start to go wrong even before Anna wakes. There’s a fresh murder and the past, gurgling beneath the surface, rears its ugly head.

At times I found it hard to know if the unfolding plot was far too obvious, or meant to be misleading red herrings. Ben starts working with Anna on the assumption she’s innocent, and that any murderous act was committed while sleepwalking – something that’s troubled her since childhood. But Anna’s diary entries (in the lead-up to the murders) reference her increasing anger towards her two friends and colleagues (the victims); and then there’s her interest in Ben and his work… a long time before (coincidentally) becoming his patient. And then there’s the unaccounted-for surviving teenage child of a famous child-killer held in Broadmoor.

I enjoyed the opening of this book and then it stalled a little as Ben looks into Anna’s past and though there were moments of interest and plot progression, I eventually felt frustrated by its direction. I can’t articulate why but I was dissatisfied in a way. Perhaps it was because of Anna’s thoughts being revealed through her diary entries.

Although, things then look up again as we move into the present (set a year after Anna wakes). I enjoyed Ben’s narration here – knowing Anna has an agenda, but playing along anyway. Although that game of cat and mouse drags on for a while, we’re offered two stories and have to decide which to believe. Because both cannot be true. Or can they?

I can still sense the darkness in this. My head tells me to get up, walk away, get on the next plane out of here and find a new hiding spot. But my heart tells me it would be futile. That we are stuck, the two of us, in this loop. We are compelled by the mystery of each other. I have made my choice. This only ends when one of us is left standing. p 402

And then I was disappointed by the conclusion. Saddened perhaps. But not surprised. I think I would have preferred something open-ended… keeping us hanging. Never sated.

This is Blake’s debut and although not gasp-out-loud twisty, it’s clever. A mix of brilliance and disappointments. And though there were a few threads left untethered it’s certainly a book I’ll remember (a rarity as there are many that blur into one another), so I’m looking forward to what he writes next.

Anna O by Matthew Blake was published by Harper Collins.

I received an electronic copy of this book as well as the preview copy for review purposes. 

four-stars

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