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Disclaimer by Renee Knight


Disclaimer follows in the footsteps of Gone Girland The Girl on the Train in the current trend towards domestic noir within the psychological thriller genre. Novelist Julia Crouch first coined the term to categorise the trend for female protagonists caught up in the dark side of the everyday; ordinary people contending with violence, deception and betrayal.

The novel explores the interesting premise of opening a book to discover it’s all about you. Unfortunately for lead character Catherine, her story is not one she wants to be told. The very first chapter opens with Catherine vomiting in her bathroom, clearly disturbed by some sort of fearful realisation. We quickly learn that she has recently moved house and, in doing so, has discovered a book which she has unwittingly began to read. The content of the book is slow to be revealed, drip fed to the reader as Catherine herself comes to terms with her past and the book’s significance.

The incriminating book that has infiltrated its way into Catherine’s happy home, The Perfect Stranger begins as an illicit love story between a teenage boy and a young mother. When it starts to describe events specific to Catherine’s darkest secret, she recognises herself in the story but is perplexed at who could be telling it as the boy has since died. Terrified that her husband will learn of her undisclosed betrayal, Catherine seeks to find the book's author. The sense of panic is palpable as Catherine desperately tries to protect her husband and grown up son Nicholas from discovering the truth about a seemingly innocuous family holiday over twenty years ago.

In keeping with the features of domestic noir, Disclaimer employs subjective, unreliable narration; through Stephen Bridgstocke, we are told the story from an entirely different perspective. Lost and grieving for his wife Nancy, Stephen is consumed by the sense of injustice that has been with him since the loss of their only son. A former teacher who once excelled in his profession, Stephen is now retired, bitter and all too willing to embrace the project he is presented with; serving revenge upon the person he blames not only for the death of his son but also the loss of his beloved wife Nancy.

The two narratives quickly merge, with Stephen revelling at Catherine’s separation from her family as he becomes increasingly unstable, bringing Nancy back to life in his broken mind. As the reader questions whether Catherine deserves ‘her’ fate in The Perfect Stranger, we gradually backtrack to what really happened. With dark, wincing realism, Disclaimer explores what it means to be good or bad, challenging the differences between appearance and reality. It delves into the repercussions of split-second decisions and the clawing back of control when awful things happen. Knight convincingly draws characters that are complex, changeable and incomprehensible. The novel builds towards a twisting climax that is at once chilling and thought provoking; a thrilling read that will make you question the far-reaching consequences of actions and choices.

Written by Keri Wilson



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