Book review: The Strangers We Know by Pip Drysdale

Sunday, December 1, 2019 Permalink

Interestingly I read Pip Drysdale’s The Sunday Girl, while travelling home from Italy last October. It’s typical of me, but I’ve included reference to my Emirates meal in the review, which in retrospect is kinda weird. Happily however, I enjoyed the book (far more than the meal) and it seems, though I thought I knew what was going to happen, it didn’t quite play out like that.

Similarly, here though I kinda guessed the ‘who’ of this book, I didn’t guess the ‘why’. Drysdale offers readers a twisty ride and I was quite surprised at some of the false leads I happily pursued as I was reading. I tend to think of myself as pretty savvy in terms of whodunnits (mostly because I ponder ‘why’ characters or information are introduced rather than having some great crime-solving ability). Here however, (like in Drysdale’s last book) I easily believed some of the bad press given to some characters and misjudged a few people.

Book review: The Strangers We Know by Pip DrysdaleThe Strangers We Know
by Pip Drysdale
Published by Simon & Schuster Australia
on 01/12/2019
Source: Simon & Schuster, NetGalley
Genres: Psychological Thriller
ISBN: 9781925685848
Pages: 336
four-stars
Goodreads

When Charlie sees a man who is the spitting image of her husband Oliver on a dating app, her heart stops. Her first desperate instinct is to tell herself she must be mistaken – after all, she only caught a glimpse from a distance as her friends were laughingly swiping through the men on offer. But no matter how much she tries to push her fears aside, she can’t because she took that photo. On their honeymoon. She just can’t let it go.

Suddenly other signs of betrayal begin to add up and so Charlie does the only thing she can think of to defend her position – she signs up to the app to catch Oliver in the act.

But Charlie soon discovers that infidelity is the least of her problems. Nothing is as it seems and nobody is who she thinks they are ...

The book’s written from Charlie’s point of view so we know what she knows… when she knows it. We know how charming Oliver was in their first encounter. And we learn later his behaviour was part of a dare (sorry, spoiler alert). And then there’s his history with other women and a jilted ex in particular. So…. there are a few bumps but 18mths later Charlie and Oliver are happy. Until she sees him on the dating app.

Because we’re in her head, we know how he acts around her (and his reaction to her suspicions) and it’s hard to reconcile the Oliver we see through Charlie with the one she’s starting to worry exists. She gives him chance after chance to prove her wrong. There’s something about his behaviour that rings true, that isn’t hiding a whole other life that involves cheating on Charlie; but she’s confronted with a stream of evidence to the contrary.

So Charlie starts to snoop; wondering how well she knows her husband. How well she knows of his sexual and relationship history and his rather nebulous business exploits.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realise there’s something about iffy about Oliver’s work. But is it Oliver? Is it his dodgy partner Justin? Or is it just reflective of their business, working in countries like Nigeria and Brazil and dealing with people he’d prefer not talk about.

I have to admit, I’m really distrustful. (Perhaps why I’m still single in my 50s.) I know people who’ve discovered partners on dating apps when, like Charlie, they’ve assumed they’re in happy relationships. Or… as experienced by a friend here, the potential suitor is just a ‘playa’ who says he’s leaving his wife, but really not.

There’s an interesting support cast – Charlie’s bestie, a work colleague, a pilates friend. And then there’s Oliver’s world and his business partner Justin.

I really enjoyed this book. There was a slight sense of an anticlimax on its conclusion, and I’m not sure if that’s because we find out secrets in an iterative way. Something that’s also one of the novel’s strengths. Drysdale does the ‘just when you think you have all of the answers…’ type twist well.

I noted in Drysdale’s first book she cleverly used The Art of War as reference. Here each chapter is introduced as an ‘episode’ reflecting Charlie’s work as an actress. I also liked that – though the book is written in present tense, it’s also kinda written retrospectively – counting down from a key turning point in the novel.

I liked Charlie. As I said, we’re in her head so it’s hard not to feel sympathy and identify with your host or narrator; she also annoyed me a little and I wasn’t sure why. She’s likeable enough… not precious or untrustworthy but there’s a sense of her not really being invested in her own life.

She worries about Oliver’s motivation for proposing for example, but doesn’t talk about her own for accepting. And then there’s the stuff with her ex-boyfriend.

It felt a bit like she’s happy to hand responsibility for her life to someone else.

Oliver was like one of those brightly coloured dividers between sections of a school folder. There was my life ‘before Oliver’, where reality was a far cry from what I’d thought life would be like….

Then there was my life ‘after Oliver’, where I was calmer….

‘Love’ with him meant I was seen. I was safe….

It gave me strength. As though my love for him formed a secondary spine. pp 9-10

Weirdly, there’s reference to an event in Charlie’s past about which we get some detail but not much and felt a little underdone, though I guess it helps shape the person we meet now.

That was the ‘me’ I’d recreated when I’d moved to London to start afresh at nineteen. I couldn’t change my interior monologue, my fears, nor my wounds, and so instead I changed what I showed people. I created an illusion and I wore it like armour. See: none of us are who we appear to be. p 18

All in all though, this is another entertaining read from Drysdale and I’m enjoying her work… and look forward to more!

The Strangers We Know by Pip Drysdale will be published in Australia by Simon & Schuster in early December 2019.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes. 

four-stars

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