Review: Unraveling Oliver by Liz Nugent

Title: Unraveling Oliver
Author: Liz Nugent
Pages: 272
Genre: Mystery, Fiction
Source: Free ARC from Gallery, Threshold, Pocket Books

Rating: 3.5 stars

Note: As stated under the Source (above), I received this book for free from Gallery, Threshold, Pocket Books via NetGalley. I pride myself on writing fair and honest reviews.

Summary: Truth be told, I’m not sure there has ever been a more aptly titled book. The entire book is dedicated to understanding how a man who is seemingly successful, well-adjusted and happily married, could come off his hinges so suddenly and beat his wife into a permanent coma. How do we come to that understanding? By unraveling his past.

Review: Some books are written to inform, to educate, to broaden perspective. Some are written to entertain. This book is certainly the former. It’s thoughtfully written, offering insight into the inner workings of a man who appeared to have it all. What could have caused him to act out so violently, to throw everything away in an instant? Isn’t a person who could do such a thing evil and inhuman? As we flash back to Oliver’s past, getting to know where he came from, how he became who he is, getting to hear the voices of those from his past, it gets harder and harder to label him evil. There are even points at which I felt some empathy for him, and given what he did, that was a bit of a hard pill to swallow. And that’s what I loved most about this book.

It is very easy to read about violence and crime in the papers or watch it on the news and dismiss those involved as evil incarnate. But the world isn’t truly that black and white. People aren’t ever only one thing. Sure, there are serial killers, and sadists who derive pleasure from causing as much pain as possible, and they are rarely normal people. But that doesn’t mean they never were normal. More often than not, something happened to them in their early development that damaged them in irreparable ways. Are there sociopaths and psychopaths in the world? Certainly. But statistically speaking, most of them don’t beat their wives into a coma or go on killing sprees. As much as we’d like to believe it is so, violent criminals are not born evil. Given a certain type of upbringing (likely paired with certain genetic traits), anyone could grow up, live a seemingly normal life, and then lose it one day. But that is too scary a thought for us to contemplate, so we label all criminals as losers or evil and dismiss them as inhuman, other. This book examines the past of someone who finally lost it one day, after keeping it together for most of his life, and offers an alternative answer to the question – Why did he do it?

While I did not like Oliver, I had empathy for what he went through, how he found himself where he did. Not a light book or a fun book, but certainly one worth reading.

4 Replies to “Review: Unraveling Oliver by Liz Nugent”

    • It was really compelling. All the differing perspectives, and the slow introduction to his history…I love books that delve into the less palatable realities of humanity.

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