FEATURE - UNDERNEATH ****
I was contacted by Anne Goodwin who asked me to review one of her books for my blog. As you can see from her website HERE she has some really great books to choose from. Perhaps it says a lot about me that I chose Underneath as the one I wanted to review though....
Anne Goodwin loves fiction for the freedom to contradict herself and has been scribbling stories ever since she could hold a pencil. During her career as an NHS clinical psychologist her focus was on helping other people tell their neglected stories to themselves. Now that her short fiction publication count has overtaken her age, her ambition is to write and publish enough novels to match her shoe size. Her debut novel, Sugar and Snails, was published in July 2015 by Inspired Quill and shortlisted for the 2016 Polari First Book Prize. Her second novel, Underneath, was published in May 2017. Her short story anthology, Becoming Someone, was published in November 2018.
He never intended to be a jailer …
After years of travelling, responsible to no-one but himself, Steve has resolved to settle down. He gets a job, buys a house and persuades Liesel to move in with him.
Life’s perfect, until Liesel delivers her ultimatum: if he won’t agree to start a family, she’ll have to leave. He can’t bear to lose her, but how can he face the prospect of fatherhood when he has no idea what being a father means? If he could somehow make her stay, he wouldn’t have to choose … and it would be a shame not to make use of the cellar.
Will this be the solution to his problems, or the catalyst for his own unravelling?
Underneath is a book with a very dark premise although it wasn’t as predictable as it might have been from the blurb. Although we are introduced to the darker reveal of a woman trapped downstairs in the cellar right from the very first chapter, we are left to ponder this as the book takes a more meandering, flash-back approach to the story. We learn all about Steve and his relationship with the flighty Liesel for a good 60% of the book – the origins and their ups and downs. This was a great way to give us character development and as a result the characters are well-rounded and we get a deep insight into their personalities and feelings. There are also quite a few twists including an major assumption which is shattered by a huge turn of events later in the plot (no spoilers!)
My main criticism with the book was that Steve and Liesel are completely unlikable. Steve in particular is very oddly written; he obsesses about a character that Liesel makes up and only ever mentions once and he is supposed to be very into travel but we don’t really hear very much of his experiences. There were also some really cringey parts in relation to sex, if I read the phrase ‘my prick tingled’ one more time I was going to throw my kindle out of a window! Steve also references a woman’s mood in terms of ‘her time of the month’ and there’s also a rather derogatory description of someone who may have downs syndrome at one point. It’s hard to tell how much of this is deliberate to make Steve unlikeable and how much is the authors writing style (or what the author thinks a male character would feel) but I haven’t read anything by Ms Goodwin before so I can’t really tell. The flash-back chapters about Steve’s past were interesting although I felt they were a little repetitive in places and there were some events where it was not particularly clear what had happened.
Liesel started out as a character I enjoyed and had sympathy for - she’s a free spirit who has no intention of settling down or having children. I was with her for most of the story until her personality takes a mad swing half way through where she doesn’t get a job she wanted and spirals down from there. This seemed so at odds with the woman we were presented with at first that I had a hard time adapting to the 180 shift. She also then seems to hate Steve whenever she sees him again as if he’s done something terrible to her but this isn’t really explained. As the whole point of Steve’s character progression is to show someone on the slip into madness and his personality also changes it felt like too much of a similar shift with not enough pay-out. If she had stayed as a nicer character who just wanted to help Steve for example, we would get the juxtaposition of him going off the rails with her. With no-one to root for throughout the plot you are kind of left not really feeling too invested in the story.
Overall, I enjoyed the progression of the plot showing Steve’s decline into insanity and some of the crazy choices he made which are nicely balanced with some childhood flash-backs to illustrate how he became who he is today. However, I did feel in some places the language used was a bit cringe-worthy, it was needlessly repetitive in places and with no-one to root for you were left feeling a little lost as the reader. Thank you to Anne Goodwin and Inspired Quill for the copy of Underneath in exchange for an honest review.
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