Susan Morrow is a (re)married woman who lives in L.A with her husband, Arnold. Their marriage is slowly unravelling, and she’s surprised when, one day, she receives a manuscript from her ex-husband, which is a novel that he’s written. He also tells Susan that he’s coming into the city soon and asks her if she’d like to meet. She agrees. As she starts reading, she asks herself: why is the novel so violent? And why, after all these years, did he choose to send it to her?
When I picked up this book, I knew pretty much nothing about it. I was in London, on the way home, and needed something to read on the train. I knew there was a film out based on it which had been fairly well-received (hence the new title), so I decided to go for this one.
It was on sale in WH Smiths, for £4. It was a bestseller, and I was expecting something fast-paced, full of twists and punchy writing. The book does have punchy writing, but it doesn’t really have twists. Really, it’s two things, the first being a drama about a failing relationship, and the second a crime thriller.
What makes the novel so unique is its narrative style. There are two story strands. One describes what’s happening in ‘real life’ in the novel; we read about Susan talking to her husband, describing what her children are doing, thinking about how she met Edward, and subsequently her second husband. The second is ‘Nocturnal Animals,’ the title of the novel Edward has written: these parts of the novel summarize each chapter of the fictional book.
In the end, those sections are where the novel really shines. They’re pacy, smartly written, and never feel boring, which is exactly what you want from a novel of this kind. The book’s momentum does wane a little in the parts based on Susan’s real life, but doesn’t mean they’re bad by any means. The two sections complement each-other very well, too. Without Susan’s inner thoughts, the ‘Nocturnal Animals’ sections would be redundant and vice versa.
I enjoyed this book a lot. The novel’s fast-paced, always keeps you curious about what’s going to happen next, and the story is very complicated. The book is only 400 pages, but a lot goes on in them, and the end allows you to draw your own conclusions, which means it stays with you for days after you’ve finished reading it.