Review of Behind Her Eyes, by Sarah Pinborough

Behind

Loved it! I’d say I earned a B grade in sussing & wonder if I’d stopped before starting chapter 52 & let the story ferment for a day or two the whole thing would have come together for me. Shall write a ‘spoiler’ review for readers who have finished this book. But for now, let me say it’s close to perfect – starting with the title!

It is simply impossible to review Behind Her Eyes without taking into account the now notorious ‘WTF’ ending, so this is a spoiler review intended for other readers who have finished the book. Do not read further unless you have read it, or decided you never will but want to know what all the fuss was about:

** Spoilers Follow **

I liked it very much tho’ I did not quite suss out the ending, but the concept it’s based on wasn’t new to me: I’d seen the movie The Skeleton Key. Other features were familiar. Some, like out-of-body experiences are absolutely routine if you work in a hospital. Others, like travel on the astral plane and lucid dreaming are widely accepted—perhaps more widely than most of us might suppose. For many reasons, those who have first-hand knowledge don’t talk about it much, especially to strangers. And of course possession by an alien identity was frequent in Biblical times and is commonly believed to occur in Africa today. (I gather in West Africa encountering an ancestor who happens to be dead isn’t exactly a routine experience, but nothing to write home about.) And I also liked how a fairly hackneyed domestic drama plot could be reworked to accomplish something completely original. Unhappy single-mum Louise has one-night stand with David, psychiatrist husband of Adele, who becomes Louise’s best friend. Finally we discover that the supposed BF Adele actually intended to take possession of Louise’s body, to put new life into her now stale relationship with the David, leading her to put Louise on a slimming programme. And to add an even more original twist, @ the end we find that Adele’s body had been commandeered years ago by a junkie whom Adele had met in a rehab centre, a male drug addict who himself was burning with desire for her future husband David. Reading the book again watching for clues should be a great experience; glad I bought the hardback. I had figured out that @ least one of our characters was really dead, as well as out-of-body travel. But efforts to discern what was coming were thrown off-track by a singular pronoun (one of the last places in English where grammatical genders survive) @ the very beginning, which misled me by being masculine, though had it been feminine I doubt I’d done better, just come up with a different not-quite-correct solution. When writing about a male consciousness in a female body, you really need pronouns like ze & zir whilst speculating what it would be like for a man’s consciousness to experience sex in a woman’s body. (But just what would potential readers think if the title of the book were Behind Zir Eyes!) If like me, you not only enjoy ‘paranormal’ phenomena in literature, but regard them quite possible albeit infrequent occurrences in ‘real life’, you should find Behind Her Eyes a great piece of innovative fiction.

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