Book review: When the Lights Go Out by Mary Kubica

Tuesday, August 21, 2018 Permalink

I’ve not read many of Mary Kubica’s novels, which is a tad weird as they always sound like they’d be my reading bread-and-butter – genre-wise.

I’m very glad I made the last minute decision to download a review copy of this book though, as I was amazed (again, I’m not sure why!) at how much I enjoyed it.

Book review: When the Lights Go Out by Mary KubicaWhen The Lights Go Out
by Mary Kubica
Published by HQ Fiction Australia
on September 4th 2018
Source: NetGalley
Genres: Thriller / Suspense, Psychological Thriller
ISBN: 1848456700, 9781489264633
Pages: 304

Jessie Sloane is on the path to rebuilding her life after years of caring for her ailing mother. She rents a new apartment and applies for college. But when the college informs her that her social security number has raised a red flag, Jessie discovers a shocking detail that forces her to question everything she's ever known.

Finding herself suddenly at the centre of a bizarre mystery, Jessie tumbles down a rabbit hole, which is only exacerbated by a relentless lack of sleep. As days pass and the insomnia worsens, it plays with Jessie's mind. Her judgment is blurred, her thoughts hampered by fatigue. Jessie begins to see things until she can no longer tell the difference between what's real and what she's only imagined.

Meanwhile, twenty years earlier and two hundred and fifty miles away, another woman's split–second decision may hold the key to Jessie's secret past. Is Jessie really who she thinks she is? Has her whole life been a lie? The truth will shock her to her core…if she lives long enough to discover it.

I didn’t make many notes reading this book. I dove on in and powered through it…. I did however worry for a while that it was all too obvious. “Surely not?” I asked myself (cos I was alone in the bath where I was reading!), worrying it’d all be anticlimactic.

But for a long time it seems as if we know EXACTLY where the book is heading.

Most of it unfolds from Jessie’s point of view. And she’s struggling. She’s been beside her mother’s deathbed (eek, horrible word but kinda true here) for months, weeks and now through some very intense days. She’s not slept and starts imagining all sorts of weird and wonderful things. Though mostly weird.

And we’re along for the ride as her visions, thoughts and actions become more and more unpredictable. It’s hard cos we grow to like Jessie and we really don’t want things to end badly for her, but it seems kinda inevitable.

And then we’re in the head of Eden back in the 1990s – newly married and besotted with her husband. I found their relationship a little weird as Eden seems overly dependent on Aaron. She’s worked in the past but now they’ve moved they’re planning to start a family, so Eden’s just waiting to get pregnant…  and to say that she becomes preoccupied with it is an understatement.

Other than seemingly-obvious linkages Eden and Jessie kinda mirror each other (decades apart) as their behaviour disintegrates. They’re both conscious of it however: Eden trying to distract herself from her obsession with becoming pregnant and unhealthy coping mechanisms; and Jessie understanding that her thoughts are being influenced by her lack of sleep…. and comparing the extent of her insomnia to those who’ve died from a lack of sleep (aka fatal familial insomnia) in the past.

I could actually relate to this book on a number of levels. Kubica includes a lot of information about patients nearing death… their faux rallying (terminal lucidity) and their breathing at the end (Cheyne-Stokes respiration); and I remembered my father’s last days in palliative care. He didn’t wake for the last week and sadly there was no last hurrah, instead my brother, mother and I held our own breaths as my father’s stopped again and again over the last days of his life.

And then there’s the frustration of trying to get pregnant. Something seemingly easy for most and many take for granted, isn’t an option for others and seeing kids or pregnant women can become a sadistic taunt.

What I actually loved most about this book is the direction Kubica ends up taking us. It wasn’t what I expected at all. I’d been weighing up possible outcomes in my little mind, as Jessie seemingly starts losing hers – counting down the number of days she can possibly survive without sleep… and while she’s waiting to die, her increasingly disturbed behaviour.

There’s a strong theme of death throughout the book (obviously, you might think) but, it’s not just Jessie’s mother. The discovery of the death certificate in her name starts Jessie on an increasingly morbid pattern of thinking. What freaks her out the most, she says, “is the implication that I’m already dead.” And of course the potential of that statement along with events and people entering Jessie’s life (slightly contrived and kinda fortuitous and ill-timed all at once) almost had my head exploding.

And then… something I really didn’t see coming. (And I loved it!)

When the Lights Go Out by Mary Kubica was published in Australia by HQ Fiction (Harper Collins) and is now available.

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


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