Book Review: ‘Unraveling Oliver’

‘Unraveling Oliver’ explores a complex character’s past (Photo Courtesy of

The title of this taut psychological thriller is quite apt. In the story, wildly successful author Oliver has committed a shocking, violent crime – beating his devoted wife Alice so brutally that she’s in a coma from which she may never awaken. With Oliver’s motives unclear, it leads the reader on a quest to figure out what caused him to commit such a savage crime. Alice illustrated the children’s fantasy book series that made them both wealthy. A talented, creative couple, Oliver and Amy were well-known and beloved by all who knew them, or at least that’s how they appeared.

Nugent alternates chapters narrated by Oliver, Alice, Oliver’s mistress Moya and friends Michael, Barney and Veronique to reveal Oliver’s complicated past. Neglected and rejected from birth, Oliver is warehoused in boarding schools, his physical needs coldly met by an absent, angry father who seems to loathe him. A kindly priest and the families of classmates befriend the lonely boy as best they can, but he gradually becomes obsessed with learning the truth about his past. Oliver learns to hide his fears and feelings of inadequacy, taking comfort in his academic successes and his superstar good looks. Nugent carefully and slowly reveals Oliver’s true nature as she details his past and explores the shame and secrecy surrounding his birth.

Tightly written, compulsively readable and truly horrifying at times, this novel is graced with believable, heartbreaking and memorable characters. By the end, the shattering climax can be roughly guessed at but the ending is still shocking and full of surprises.