Title: Second Life
Author: SJ Watson
Published: 12 February 2015
Publisher: Random House UK, Transworld Publishers & Doubleday
The sensational new psychological thriller from the bestselling author of Before I Go To Sleep . . .
She loves her husband. She’s obsessed by a stranger.
She’s a devoted mother. She’s prepared to lose everything.
She knows what she’s doing. She’s out of control.
She’s innocent. She’s guilty as sin.
Thanks to Random House UK, Transworld Publishers and NetGalley for providing me with a copy of Second Life in return for an honest review.
Julia is grieving for her younger sister, Kate, who was brutally murdered in an alleyway in Paris. The police seem to be no closer to catching her killer. After visiting Kate’s former flatmate, Anna, she learns that Kate had been visiting online dating sites to live out sexual fantasies and to arrange encounters with men. Julia becomes obsessed with the idea that one of those men must have been Kate’s killer and she decides to take matters into her own hands in order to identify the man Kate was meeting on the night of her death.
The main character, Julia, seems to feel out of place in her life, even before her sister’s death. She has a loving and supportive husband, a well-behaved teenage son, a career she loves, a comfortable existence and yet seems to yearn for a former boyfriend and a past life. She is a recovering alcoholic and is struggling to sustain a bond with her adopted son, fearing that he and his father are closer. I did not really find her to be a likeable character and my annoyance with her may have slightly coloured my feelings to the story in general.
As the story is told from Julia’s point of view, the supporting characters are fairly one-dimensional. We learn nothing about them or their thoughts and feelings. I think that this actually worked well for SECOND LIFE as it allows the story to be seen solely through Julia’s eyes.
For me, the first half of the book was very slow. It concentrates on setting the scene and giving the reader a real sense of Julia’s grief. Whilst this is important to the story, I believe it could have been cut down significantly, with more time given to the second half of the story, which is where the story starts to become more interesting. The first half seemed a bit repetitive to me and whilst I say ‘half’, it actually wasn’t until about three-quarters of the way through that the plot started to pick up pace.
In the second ‘half’ of the book, Julia delves deeper into the mystery of her sister’s murder and finds herself unwittingly becoming embroiled in a darker side of the internet, involving cybersex, fantasy and encounters with strangers. Whilst the story becomes much more intense and fast-paced, it is unfortunately at this point that it became more unconvincing to me. Whilst we hear a lot in the media at present about the dangers of meeting people online, Julia appears to disregard any common sense and becomes involved in a fairly implausible relationship with someone she meets through one of the dating websites. It is difficult to suspend believe and simply accept that someone of Julia’s position and intelligence would have the stupidity to become involved in such a potentially dangerous situation, however I imagine that is the same attitude that friends and family of real-life victims would take upon hearing that their loved ones had become involved in such situations.
The book talks a lot about Julia’s struggle with alcoholism. I understand that, given the personal tragedy she has suffered, it would be easy to descend into a full relapse and this was possibly, for me, the most believable part of the story.
There is a twist at the end which, in this genre of story, is to be expected. However, the twist here relates to Julia’s former life and seems somewhat coincidental given that the specific period of her life had been playing in her mind throughout the book.
The ending itself was a very ‘marmite’ affair (i.e. either you will love it or hate it). It didn’t quite work for me, as it was very abrupt and I would prefer everything to be neatly tied up. However, I can believe that a lot of reviewers/readers will like an ending which leaves something to the imagination.
Despite my reservations as to the believability of the story, the book was well-written and the second half certainly held my attention. Some aspects of the story were tense and gripping, but overall I was slightly disappointed as I couldn’t quite get into the story as well as I had hoped.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5
About the Author
S J Watson’s first novel, Before I Go To Sleep, is a phenomenal international success. A bestseller around the world, it won The Crime Writers’ Association Award for Best Debut Novel and The Galaxy National Book Award for Crime Thriller of the Year. The film of the book, starring Nicole Kidman, Colin Firth and Mark Strong, and directed by Rowan Joffe, was released in September 2014.
SJ Watson was born in the Midlands and now lives in London