Beware! Once you start reading this book, nothing else will do but to finish it. It is a page-turning thriller which also tackles issues of abuse. Damaged people in families wreak havoc especially when memories are suppressed and secrets are kept.
We meet Emma at a function with friends; it soon becomes clear that her friend, Gay, hates Emma’s husband, Rick, and is delighted at the presence of Craig, the man Emma nearly married 15 years ago. The banter between the friends is lewd, catty and fun though undercurrents soon begin to surface. Emma is worried about her mother so they leave early.They get home to find she has been brutally murdered.
The police believe the murder was committed by the Zimbabwean gardener, Surprise, but Emma refuses to believe it. Her down and out brother, Ross arrives for the memorial service and the family dynamics play out between the three men. Emma is torn between conflicting emotions; her mother’s death, her brother’s aggression, her husband’s egocentricity and the strong attraction she still feels for her ex-lover. Yet she also feel she has no-one to turn to as they all believe the police’s verdict.
Interspersed between the the chapters are flashbacks in which a little boy is abused by an adult man. Throughout the novel, one is never sure who this is. This adds to the suspense because potentially it could be any of the three men or someone else entirely. Emma also has flashbacks now and again but they are so quick that she cannot quite grasp them.
The cast of characters are fairly typical middle-class white people living in Johannesburg with the requisite servant and comfortable lifestyle. Despite this the characters are real as they fluctuate from being hilariously funny to making wrong decisions to behaving badly. I liked the awareness Emma showed with regard to her privileged lifestyle and the criticisms she made towards her husband when he spouted racist comments. The dialogue throughout the novel is so natural that the reader feels like a fly on the wall. So are the sex scenes which are raunchy and passionate.
The plot is very well-constructed with various twists and turns that drive the action forward. One is never quite sure who to suspect or what will happen next. Is Rick just a bombastic idiot or is it more sinister than that? Is Craig really as good a guy as he seems? Is brother, Ross just a loser who does not pay maintenance and cannot hold down a job?
Once the truth unfolds, the question is asked regarding who to blame; or is everyone complicit in looking the other way? Things Unseen combines humour, darkness and normal life very convincingly. An excellent read.
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