As a psychotherapist, I love any book that explores the realms of psychology, from the normal and expected responses to everyday stressors or past traumas to the extremes of psychological disfunction and sociopathy. In Blog # 18, More Biblio-Books, I described that the protagonist in Stephanie Butland’s The Lost for Words Bookshop is a childhood trauma survivor who has withdrawn from the world into books to keep herself safe from the risks inherent in relationships.
Gail Honeyman’s protagonist in Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine copes in a similar way with her past trauma. A self-described “nutter,” Eleanor states that she is “…happiest in the background being left to my own devices,” and that “Asking for help was anathema to me.” But then an unlikely and compassionate friendship changes everything. I came to love Eleanor and even started reading more slowly to forestall having to say goodbye. Honeyman is masterful in unraveling Eleanor’s past trauma in a way that is both reassuring and surprising right to the end. This was a wonderful, uplifting read — laugh out loud funny at times, poignant at others. I know Eleanor will stay with me for a long time!
Entangled Moon by E. C. Frey also explored the impact of childhood trauma albeit in a much more suspenseful way. I couldn’t put this book down! I read it in two evenings, staying up late to finish it. There is a lot to follow –with many POVs and storylines — but it is well worth the effort. The primary protagonist, Heather, has escaped an abusive childhood to create a new life. But a secret from her past, shared with her childhood friends, haunts her and threatens to destroy the life she has built. As she and her friends come together for their annual reunion, the threat becomes imminent and they realize they must finally confront it. Emotions are heightened and the tension palpable. Frey does a masterful job of revealing the nuances of memory from the POVs of her different characters in a thrilling story that took several unexpected turns and illustrated that things aren’t always what we think. To avoid spoilers, I won’t say more other than there was one twist in particular that I thought was especially satisfying.
Another psychological thriller involving past trauma was The Woman in the Window by A. J. Finn. I’ve been craving another Gone Girl or The Girl on the Train and I thought this book would fit the bill. It exceeded my expectations, turning out to be so much more than just a psychological thriller by satisfying the mystery lover, the film noir fan and the psychotherapist in me. As Stephen King said, it really is “unputdownable.” I generally love “figuring it out” before the end of the book, but Finn had me second guessing myself right up to the conclusion. I was a character in that film noir — unsure, doubting, questioning. It was fabulous fun!
The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen also kept me guessing. It was quite a ride with multiple plot twists, unlike any other psychological thriller I have read. I have to admit this one started a bit uneven for me. I felt confused in that sense of “something’s really off here.” And it was, as you learn in the first reveal. But that helped me regain some footing and go on to enjoy the rest of the book. There are several twists, some I expected and one in particular that (pleasantly) surprised me.
Her Pretty Face by Robyn Harding was another fast paced read that I loved for the psychological insights, great character development and reminder that things aren’t always what they seem! Told in three POVs and alternating between past and present, the story had the perfect amount of suspense and twists for me– enough to keep me reading but not so much so to rob me of sleep or give me nightmares!
A final book that I’ll add to this category is The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostavo. A slow-unfolding mystery rather than a thriller, the book is told in multiple POVs and alternates between the late 20th century back to the late 19th century. The protagonist, a psychiatrist and painter, is thrust into the mystery involving art, love, and obsession when a renowned painter becomes his patient after attacking a painting in the National Gallery of Art. Much like A. J. Finn’s book, I thoroughly enjoyed this story on many levels.
Delving into the human psyche is clearly a passion of mine and I enjoy the many ways authors explore it in books. What about you? Are there any books such as these that you have found fascinating or enjoyable?