- Review by Director of Suspense Molly Odintz
When given an opportunity to read master-of-all-genre-fiction Sarah Pinborough’s shocking new thriller, Behind Her Eyes, I had no idea what to expect – aside from the cover’s promise of a twist at the end. After finishing the book, staring at nothing for a good half hour thinking “wtf just happened?!?!!!,” and rereading various parts of the book to reinterpret the meaning of significant passages in the light of new information, I felt grateful that I came into the book with no expectations. The reader who thinks they know what to expect should just toss that idea out the window right now. You cannot possibly predict that wonderful horrorshow of an ending.
Pinborough’s latest appears, at first, to tell the story of a love triangle. As the tale continues, sinister agendas arise and reshape our perceptions of characters, plotlines, and reality itself. In the elaborate, many layered nature of its twist, Behind Her Eyes conjures the specter of the films The Sixth Sense, The Spanish Prisoner, or any other tale that can be finished and reconsidered in an entirely new light based on the end.
Behind Her Eyes begins with a moral dilemma. A divorcee wakes up with a hangover and a memory of nearly going home with a married man. She heads to work only to discover that her new boss is her almost-lover from the night before, and their desire for each other stretches into the harsh light of sobriety, although their shared workplace gives them an additional reason to deny their baser urges.
Meanwhile, the boss’s wife waits at home, rethinking their arguments and plotting her own escape (or revenge) from what appears to be a loveless marriage.She befriends her husband’s new coworker (and potential love interest), and turns the other woman into a project, ostensibly hoping to restore the young divorcee’s self-confidence, oblivious that there might be any attraction between her husband and his colleague. The two women work out together, shop together, and talk endlessly about the degenerating marriage of the boss and his wife. They begin to mirror each other in their looks and their desires, but to what end?
The imagery of merging and competing with other women in Behind Her Eyes harkens back to the instability of identity in the desired woman. In crime fiction, and film noir, a woman is desired frequently because of her resemblance to or difference from another woman. In order to earn her place in a relationship, she must distinguish herself from the Woman Before by destroying that woman’s reputation, or the woman herself. The Woman Before must meanwhile fight her usurper and keep her man by denigrating her replacement or reestablishing her own primacy as desirable.
Variations on this theme include some classic works of suspense and psychological thrills. The tension between a first wife’s memory and a second wife’s living power in Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, the uncertainty of identity in the face of odd behavior in Pierre Boileau’s Vertigo, the substitution of a murder victim for her lookalike in the homicide squad in Tana French’s The Likeness, and a woman’s search for another, nearly identical woman’s murderer in Megan Miranda’s The Perfect Stranger (coming out April 11th 2017)…All these works, and more, established the tropes honored and exploded by Pinborough’s Behind Her Eyes. Of particular interest to the fan of Behind Her Eyes may be Pierre Boileau’s She Who Was No More, adapted to film under the title Diaboliques, in which a love triangle between a teacher, his wife, and his mistress devolves into an adulterous murder plot with several twists.
After allowing myself to indulge in this brief moment of analysis, I must take a step back and allow you, dear reader, to find out this novel’s twists and turns for yourself. Use the examples above as a guide to further your reading, if you so choose – and as for the rest of the plot, I’m keeping mum. Suffice to say that Behind Her Eyes is beyond entertaining – and into the far beyond of disturbing.