Book Review: Unravelling Oliver by Liz Nugent

There's a little disappointment that often comes with word-of-mouth book reviews that suggest a book is brill. So don't listen to the reviews from the book clubs. If you plan on buying this book, don't read beyond this sentence:

Unravelling Oliver by Liz Nugent, published 2014, is highly recommended, so go out and buy it if you don't have it already.

The fact that the third last word of this book review is "piss" is no reflection on the book itself.

If you don't intend to read it, you may eat the opening two chapters in a café, after buying it as a gift in a nearby bookshop, while quaffing a quappuccino. Do that, and you'll soytenly be borrowing it from the gift recipient after they've read it within a few days.

The book's multiple POV narration (with a character getting a chapter, most more than one, to tell events from their perspective) allows for a couple of twists and turns. And there are more than a few twists in this tale.

A teensy crit on the twists: One could suggest that each of them - difficult though not impossible to predict - is too slow in being revealed. There was never a point where it was like a sledgehammer from on high, cracking this reader over the head with revelation. Although these plot turns are often shocking, perhaps pacing could have made more impact.

A prediction that there was a certain amount of box-ticking going on - an institutionalised, physically-attractive, highly-intelligent boy with an unwarranted sense of entitlement becomes a psychopath - didn't really hold true. Here's the thing. Nugent's story-telling capacity is excellent. Oliver Ryan isn't in an orphanage but raised at a Catholic boarding school. His sense of entitlement springs from a justifiable source. One could argue that he's reasonably intelligent, rather than an outright brain-eating Hannibal Lecter - although his intellect in terms of social skill is certainly the right side of genius for a serial killer. But nobody's grey matter gets eaten. Ray Liotta is in the safe zone if there's a part for him in the movie. And there could be a movie. The story plays out over a half century and more. But one can envision Young Oliver and Older Oliver and Oldest Oliver in the credits now. Oliver aged 5. Oliver aged 10. He's a very rounded and charismatic character, albeit not particularly sympathetic, with a touch of the hero syndrome thrown in.

The very imaginative storyline is both Irish and universal. Church-bashing is not a central preoccupation, but it's there. The marginalisation of minorities is there. Class is hit upon. Not a particularly Irish thang, but the vagaries of genetic inheritance play a great role here too. And it's all done with lots of spit and polish, vim and vigour, and piss and vinegar.