“Fiction is the truth inside the lie” ~ Stephen King.
“Disclaimer” is an intricate novel of family secrets. A story of how we don’t really ever know the ones we deem to love the best. A novel which portrays how we see what we want to see, or expect to see – even though our perceptions might be totally erroneous and our thinking flawed. A story of two London families, each consisting of a man and wife and one son. A story in which truth is sometimes the most bitter pill to swallow. A novel of predator and prey.
First we meet Catherine and Robert Ravenscroft, a successful middle-aged, dual career couple with a nice home and a grown son Nicholas who has recently left the nest. Nicholas has never quite measured up to the couple’s hopes for him. He is an underachiever who takes drugs and has morose thoughts.
Twenty years previously this ‘happy’ family had gone to Spain for a much anticipated holiday. The vacation was interrupted when Robert had to return to England for work. Catherine and five-year old Nicholas stayed on. What happened these few days in Spain after Robert left changed Catherine’s life forever. She kept these events to herself and she thought her secret was safe. Then one day she receives a book called “The perfect stranger“. The usual disclaimer contained in works of fiction “…any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental” has been crossed out. When she begins to read she has the eerie sensation of familiarity. As she turns the pages she realizes that yes… the book is indeed about her! How can this be possible if the only person who shared her secret is now dead? Clearly the mysterious author is intent on revenge. The words in the book draw forth a pain she has attempted to forget for twenty years. Catherine is nonplussed as to how her life has taken this dire turn. Her husband and son seem like strangers, her job fades into insignificance and her aging mother is in the early stages of dementia.
The novel’s other family once consisted of Nancy and Stephen Brigstocke and their grown son, Jonathan. Now sadly, Nancy and Jonathan have passed away and only Stephen is left. A former school teacher, Stephen’s mind has been turned by his loneliness and bereavement. Stephen wears the cardigan that Nancy always wore and talks to the dead Nancy under the delusion that she is still in the house with him… Nancy had never recovered from Jonathan’s death and their relationship had never been the same afterward. Whilst clearing out his wife’s belongings he comes across a novel she has written about the circumstances surrounding their son’s death at the age of nineteen. Stephen is shocked and appalled by what he reads of Nancy’s version of events, and thinks that justice can only be served if the one responsible for his son’s death is made to ‘pay’. In order to make this happen he edits the ‘novel’ and has it published.
The convergence of the two families is skillfully intertwined and it is amazing to read the twists and turns of the plot. How many times have you read a work of fiction and suspected it to be thinly disguised fact? How else to describe this book that has a plot which one might say is even stranger than fiction?
Though the words might be overused, I cannot help but say that Renée Knight’s “Disclaimer” is an astounding and outstanding debut. It is difficult to acknowledge that this is her first novel. The author’s experience as a documentary filmmaker and television script writer has stood her in good stead and she writes with skill and ingenuity. The characters were well drawn – especially the character of Catherine with whom the reader shares a full gamut of emotion. A psychological thriller that should please even the most discerning thriller reader, the unsettling and ingenious plot of”Disclaimer” makes it stand out from the rest. Very highly recommended!
Renée Knight has worked for the BBC directing arts documentaries and has had TV and film scripts commissioned by the BBC, Channel Four, and Capital Films. In April 2013, she graduated from the Faber Academy “Writing a Novel” course. She lives in London with her husband and two children.