Review: BEHIND HER EYES by Sarah Pinborough

If I had to sum up Sarah Pinborough’s BEHIND HER EYES in a single sentence it would be: it’s a well written load of bollocks.

The single story is told in two main voices. The first voice belongs to Louise; a single mum who works part time at a local medical clinic. One night she has a drunken encounter with a man who she later discovers is her new boss, David, who has just moved to the area. The story’s other voice is Adele’s. David’s wife. She meets Louise independently of her husband and the two women become friends even though Louise feels uncomfortable about befriending the wife of a bloke she snogged. I’m not prepared to reveal much more about the plot itself other than to say it is, of necessity, complicated. The path to the three lives becoming intertwined is full of twists and half truths and things hidden beneath the surface. And Pinborough does a great job of keeping all the balls in the air yet allowing the reader to follow the increasingly ‘out there’ story.

Why then do I not feel more warmly towards the book? My main issue is that I don’t think it plays fair with the reader. And even if someone convinced me that I’m wrong on that front (good luck, see below) I wouldn’t care. Books that rely entirely on this kind of paranormal/fantasy elements are just not for me. If literally anything can be true…humans can fly unaided or politicians never lie*…then I find it almost impossible to engage with a book and certainly do not find the action in any way suspenseful. I am especially irked when the fantastical element is presented as an accepted real thing. For a while this book read as a decent psychological thriller, albeit with a daft central character. Then the ‘woo woo’ element makes the first of many, many appearances and is automatically accepted as a real thing by everyone who encounters it. I don’t want to spoil the details but this element is way past “with hard evidence I could be convinced this might be a thing some people can channel” on the spectrum of paranormal activity. It’s right around “never gonna happen, I call bullshit“. So…long before the shock ending…I had given up caring about how it would all resolve because I knew that anything, realistic or entirely ludicrous, would be possible for this story.

But getting back to playing fair…I really would be hard to convince this book does so. Even if I was the type of reader who enjoys the kind of paranormal nonsense on display here I’m confident I would still struggle with the character of Louise. No one is that naive. It’s not even a bad case of femjep, where some insipid woman is repeatedly in absurdly dangerous situations because she completely fails to learn from her mistakes and there’s always a chiselled chap around to rescue her. Louise makes a series of moronic decisions, several of which are completely at odds with being the loving mother she is portrayed as, and is completely baffled when her stupidity has unpleasant consequences. I suppose later in the book she might be being unduly influenced by Adele but her absurd naivety is evident long before that. For me fictional people have to behave in a vaguely believable way because without normal-ish human parameters constricting their behaviour they are too cartoonish and any potential for suspense is gone because they might do anything.

If you like super twisty endings and can handle a paranormal element that is utterly preposterous then you may enjoy BEHIND HER EYES. Because Pinborough writes well and the ending will genuinely surprise most readers. But if you’re at all wary of stories which rely entirely on ‘woo woo’ factors for any kind of resolution then I’d read something else. I listened to the end because my audio book selection is more limited than for printed word books and because it’s not until more than halfway through that I realised this book was going to be so heavily reliant on that paranormal element.

*in case you are concerned these are examples only, not specific to this story’s content

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Narrator  Anna Bentinck, Josie Dunn, Bea Holland and Huw Parmenter
Publisher Harper Collins, 2017
Length 11 hours 28 minutes
Format audio (mp3)
Book Series standalone
Source of review copy I bought it

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14 Responses to Review: BEHIND HER EYES by Sarah Pinborough

  1. icewineanne says:

    Spot on review!
    Such a ridiculous story. I was mad at myself afterwards for sticking with this crap. It was a complete waste of time as far as i was concerned.
    Hope your next book is an awesome read 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Margot Kinberg says:

    I really liked your review, Bernadette. As always, it’s well written. But I will pass on the book. I really don’t go for the paranormal element in novels. The few exceptions I’ve enjoyed were, as they say, exceptions that prove the rule. Just that alone would have been enough for me to say ‘no thanks.’

    To move on to your point about femjep, I just finished writing a Spotlight post on one of Zoë Sharp’s Charlie Fox novels. Now there’s a female character who certainly gets in her share of danger. But it’s far from that moronic situation you describe. She’s certainly flawed, as we all are. But she’s sharp, shrewd, and not the type to need chisel-jawed masculine heroes all the time. I like her for that.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I have enjoyed some books with a limited paranormal element too Margot. For example the Charles Todd series in which a war veteran is accompanied everywhere by the ghost of one of the soldiers who was under his command. Even though I don’t believe in ghosts I could believe that a person with the experiences described might indeed be influenced by lingering memory if not an actual presence. Here the entire story that is purporting to be ‘real world’ relies completely on a thing I believe to be utter nonsense.

      Agree with you that there is a difference between women (or anyone really) who get themselves in and out of difficulties and people who are just plain stupid.

      Thankfully there is always another, usually much better, book around the corner

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Bill Selnes says:

    Bernadette: Thank you for saving me from a book that I would not have an interest in reading. I too can accept the Todd paranormal but no greater. In fact reading the start of your post was enough. I did not need to finish it but I did read the whole post. I feel if I am going to read a blogger I should read a post to the end.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I nearly didn’t write any more than my first paragraph Bill…but I did want to be clear about my reasons. Glad to have saved you getting caught by the actual book…at least the blog post is quick to read 🙂


  4. JJ says:

    I’ll make a promise to the publishers of this book right now: if they put the wonderful opening line of your review on the cover of the paperback, I’ll buy it…

    Liked by 1 person

  5. kathy d. says:

    NO! Not me. No way am I reading this. And I love the “bollocks” in your first paragraph. That’s enough for me.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Kay says:

    I laughed about your ‘well written….’ sentence. I read this one and went back and looked at the short review I wrote. In it, I said I thought this was going to be a book that was either ‘loved’ or ‘hated’ – not much in between. And I think that’s what I’ve seen from the reactions I’ve read. I liked it better than you – the paranormal thing was silly and I agree that Louise was ‘too stupid to live’ – however, it was a fast paced story with wild twists. I did say in my review that I’d be watching for another book by the author. Not sure I took a look at her backlist, but I meant to. And now, on to the next book…

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Patti Abbott says:

    Just put a book aside when it became clear the paranormal was going to be a big factor.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I definitely do this with print books. But I can only get two audio books a month and I have been spending quite a bit of time in situations where I need them lately. C’est la vie…I got to vent in my review 🙂


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