Friday, March 13, 2020

Book Review: WHEN I WAS YOU

Title: When I Was You
Author: Minka Kent
Publisher: Thomas & Mercer
Pages: 282
My GoodReads Rating: 

Thirty-year-old Brienne Dougray has been looking over her shoulder, living in fear and unable to resume her normal lifestyle, ever since she was stabbed, beaten and robbed. Now she is confined to her home, afraid to venture out. She watches the neighbours, speculating about the nature of their lives for want of something to do.

Her only friend is her tenant, Dr Niall Emberlin, who rooms at her vast home. Niall is an oncologist, and is separated/divorced from his wife, Kate. Brienne has no close friends or family. Her grandparents are dead, and her mother abandoned her when she was a little child.

She receives a key to an apartment at the Harcourt, a luxury residential building, and thinks it is a scam. When she calls for information, she is told that she has paid for six months for a one-bedroom unit in the building. Brienne believes that it may be a clue to discovering the identity of her attacker, and thus get closure. She also suspects that he may have sold her identity.

Logging on to FB with a dummy account, she discovers Brienne Dougray, even though she herself has never been on FB. This Brienne Dougray is someone who is eerily like her, but not her. Later, she visits the apartment at the Harcourt, and finds there a woman who looks, dresses and acts like her, and drives the same car. Who is she? And why is she living as Brienne?

The question of the impersonation and stolen identity is not the only one that plagues Brienne. She also suffers jealousy at the thought of Niall reconciling with his estranged wife, Kate. Brienne furtively reads Kate’s diary, which she finds in Niall’s room, to find out more about their marriage.

But there is more to the truth than what’s inside Brienne’s head? Is the other woman stealing Brienne’s life? Or is she the real Brienne, whose life our narrator is obsessed with?

Having suffered trauma, Brienne is the classic example of an unreliable narrator. I rooted for her, even though it was hard to trust her, and I hated the antagonist (no spoilers here).

The story is written in the first person present tense PoV of Brienne in Part I. In Part II, it shifts to the first person PoV of Niall, and in Part III, we get alternate chapters in Brienne’s and Niall’s PoVs.

The first part I found a little slow. The author seemed to take her own sweet time, getting to the point of why Brienne deserved our attention, but by the end of it, our patience was well rewarded. The pace soon became fast and relentless.

I liked how Brienne and Niall fit so well together, in Brienne’s account. At that point, I had no idea which way the story would go. But by the time I got to the end of Brienne’s account, I found that it had jumped several hoops at once. By the time, we got to Niall’s account, the story had shot through the roof.

One grouse, the author should have thought of different names for the few characters. The main character is Brienne, and then there are two Brians in the story, one of them inconsequential, the other minor, but still part of the story. It doesn’t really confuse the reader, but why in a world teeming with names, did the author have to give us variations of Brian?

There were three quotes from the book that stood out for me in the light of how the book turned out.
People get too comfortable living with their own assumptions. I read this line and wondered if Brienne’s tendency to do exactly that would be her undoing.

I realized how many doors would open for you if you simply told people what they wanted to hear. No one’s interested in the truth. Most of us just think we are.

At the end of the day, we just want to believe whatever makes us feel good inside. Whatever makes us feel safe. Whatever lets us sleep at night.

There were very few characters in this story, but they were all sharply drawn. All of them ready to take charge of their own lives. Their motivations were so clear, particularly that of the antagonist, who stood out as real, though flawed.

The best thing about this story was that I got caught up in the pace, and kept furiously turning the pages. I couldn’t wait to see how Brienne would re-claim her life.

(I read this book through NetGalley.)

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