My grateful thanks to Becky Hunter at Penguin Random House for an advanced blogger copy of What Alice Knew by T.A. Cotterell in return for an honest review. What Alice Knew is out now in e-book and will be published in paperback by Black Swan on 20th April 2017. What Alice Knew is available for purchase and pre-order through the publisher links here.
What Alice Knew
How far would you go to keep a secret?
Alice has a perfect life – a great job, happy kids, a wonderful husband. Until he goes missing one night; she receives a suspicious phone call; things don’t quite add up.
Alice needs to know what’s going on. But when she uncovers the truth she faces a brutal choice. And how can she be sure it is the truth?
Sometimes it’s better not to know.
My Review of What Alice Knew
Alice has been away painting a portrait when she receives a call from her daughter saying Ed, Alice’s husband, hasn’t come home and so begins a change to all their lives.
My goodness. I love a psychological thriller and What Alice Knew fitted the bill perfectly. I hadn’t actually intended on reading it yet, but I picked up the book, read the first few pages and was so seduced by the assured quality of the writing, the voice of authority in the narrator and the revealing of a world about which I know nothing – art – that I was hooked and simply couldn’t set it aside until I’d consumed every word.
I thought What Alice Knew was complex, intelligent and thought provoking. There were so many layers to this narrative, akin to the paint with which Alice builds up her paintings, that I feel I need to reread What Alice Knew time and time again to appreciate them fully, especially the subtle cultural references (like Macbeth and Gatsby) which just added to the sheer pleasure of reading. The art imagery underpins the whole of the narrative and I want to go back and research some of the paintings mentioned before I reread the book. I loved the way the chapter numbers were presented within picture frames, for example. This suggested to me not only the theme of art running through the story, but also the concept of being framed in a crime and also being intellectually constrained by borders and the emotional boundaries of our past in much the same way as the numbers are confined within the rectangles. It was also as if the boundaries of certain truths were immutable, like the frames, so that Alice had to behave in some of the ways she did. I think T.A. Cotterell has produced a narrative to make the reader think in so many ways.
I loved the characterisation. Essentially we only really see characters through the filter of Alice’s perception in this first person account. Alice lives in a world of art, but also of artifice so that at the same time Alice was making her decisions I found I was made to question her actions and my own morality, and not always comfortably either. I thought this was masterful writing because I no longer seemed to be in possession of my own mind. T.A.Cotterell creates a situation that had me changing my mind and standpoint without my permission. In fact, I felt Alice lives her life one step removed from reality as she paints, possibly deluding herself about what she sees in her subjects and using a canvas to represent her version of the sitter’s truth in the same way many of us live our lives. It left me wondering what truth really is and how we construct our own validity.
I also thought the other themes represented were challenging and riveting. The notion of family and how it makes us who we are, the concept of loyalty, the social mores of today’s society and social media all weave through the text so that there is an almost hypnotic realism that made me quite tense at times.
What Alice Knew is not what I was expecting. It’s quite unlike any other psychological thriller I’ve read and I can’t praise it highly enough.
About T.A. Cotterell
T. A. Cotterell read History of Art at Cambridge University. He worked in the City before resigning to become a freelance writer. He is now a writer and editor at the research house Redburn. He is married with three children and lives in Bristol.
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