‘We’re constantly changing facts, rewriting history to make things easier, to make them fit in with our preferred version of events. We do it automatically. We invent memories. Without thinking. If we tell ourselves something happened often enough we start to believe it, and then we can actually remember it.’
As a general rule, I don’t consider myself to be much of a crime or thriller fan, but seen as I enjoyed the last two I read so much (The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins and Before I Go To Sleep, also by S.J. Watson), I decided to give Second Life a try.
It tells the story of Julia, a devoted wife and mother, struggling to deal with her grief over her sister’s murder. When the police fail to turn up any leads, Julia takes matters into her own hands and decides to start investigating herself, starting out with her sister’s online dating profiles, where she suspects she met her murderer. However, Julia’s online investigations lead her into a situation she could never have foreseen, where she must choose between two men in two vastly different lives…
The blurb of this book was fairly vague, yet intrigued me enough me enough to buy it when I saw it going cheap at Tesco. I had read and loved S.J. Watson’s first book Before I Go To Sleep a while back, and so was hoping to be as blown away by this book. I wasn’t as impressed by Second Life, yet it was still an exciting and compulsive read, that I breezed through within two days.
I think the one major problem I had with this book was the main character Julia. It wasn’t that she wasn’t likeable, it was more that she is an incredibly frustrating character, who seemingly makes a lot of stupid decisions for no good reasons. She initially gets involved with Lukas (a guy off one of the dating sites her sister was using) because she suspects he knew her sister, but from what I could see, she had absolutely no reason to think that. The fact that she goes on to jeapoardize her marriage and relationship with her son on the very slim chance that this stranger knows something about her sister’s death – which surely the police would have uncovered by that point – just strikes me as bizarre, however grief stricken she is.
The way she trusts some people who are clearly incredibly shady also baffled me slightly, and the way she doesn’t seem to pick up warning signs was incredibly frustrating. It’s like when people do stupid things in horror movies, like go into haunted houses on their own, and you just want to scream at the screen, ‘don’t do it! What are you doing?!” I literally wanted to shout at Julia throughout a large portion of this book!
However, the book did keep me turning the pages, as I really wanted to know the outcome of the mystery, and how Julia’s two separate and completely different lives would finally collide (as you could tell they surely would). In lots of ways the ending was actually pretty far-fetched: the antagonist clearly had luck on their side, as a lot of how they are psychologically torturing Julia seems to have been primarily down to luck, or them somehow miraculously guessing exactly what Julia would do. However, it was a skilfully woven reveal, and after the event you could kind of look back and think ‘wow, that was pretty clever!’
I also liked the use of themes in the book, as they made it feel very current and gritty. For example, a lot of the focus of the book is on the dangers of the internet, and how people aren’t always who they appear to be, and at times the book was genuinely terrifying because of it.
Whilst the plot is a slow-burner, I liked the dark tone and the way the sinister atmosphere continues to grow steadily until it reaches the explosive conclusion in the last few chapters of the book. I remember liking the same thing about Before I Go To Sleep: the book gradually becomes more and more tense until finally it all kicks off.
Overall, I really enjoyed this book. It was the kind of book you couldn’t put down, and I got through it so quickly because I desperately wanted to know how it all turns out. I didn’t love it quite as much as Before I Go To Sleep, thanks to the dumb actions of the main character and the slightly odd ending, but it was definitely worth a read, and it’s got me excited about reading some more thrillers!