Disclaimer by Renée Knight could have been named Disclosure, Dishonest, Distasteful or Disappointing. Of course, if it had been named Disclosure it might have happened that at least one of these disappointing characters might have said something honest to the people in their lives and there would never have been a story.
I cannot recommend this book. There is not one person in it that a reader can care about. It is essentially dishonest to the core. The characters are dishonest with each other, but that is because the author is dishonest with us. Real people do not behave like this.
The story centers on Catherine Ravenscroft, a happily married career woman who happens to read a novel that appears one day. As she begins to read, she realizes she is the main character. In fact, the standard fiction disclaimer that any resemblance to an actual person is coincidental has been carefully crossed out.
Does Catherine tell her husband about her unease after she realizes that someone did this? Of course not. Because she knows the story is about an incident from her past that she, of course, did not tell her husband. Her husband is a good and supportive man whom she loves. She is a documentary filmmaker who makes films about abused women, among other things, and she can’t find the wherewithal to tell her husband about a tragic incident in her past? She, who has wealth, privilege, education and is obviously a feminist? It does not compute.
The other axis on which this novel swings is Stephen Brigstocke, a retired teacher for whom we are intended to feel some pity and compassion because he’s lost both his wife and son. He wears his wife’s favorite cardigan, something that is supposed to tug on our heart strings, except from the beginning we know this is not a nice man. He’s a retired teacher because he mistreated a student, perhaps more than one student.
It is obvious from the beginning that Stephen wrote the book that frightened Catherine, inspired by finding the manuscript his dead wife had written and hidden in their dead son’s apartment – a manuscript that casts a new and sinister light on his son’s death. And of course, Nancy, his wife never told him, keeping this secret for all these years.
He not only intends to frighten Catherine. He intends to destroy her. I found Stephen creepy at every stage, he was creepily obsessive when he thought about his wife. He was even more creepy when he thought about Catherine.
We are supposed to be surprised by plot twists that are telegraphed far in advance. It was tiresome and I got bored waiting for just one person in this story to be an adult and talk to other people. But no one does, until at last, in desperation, Catherine tells Stephen, not her husband, some truths.
I suppose it is all Catherine’s fault. Something terrible happened and she never told her husband and when she met Stephen’s wife, Nancy was dying of cancers she allowed Nancy to believe a lie out of pity. No good deed goes unpunished.
So there are two truths, Catherine’s and Stephen’s and they are far apart. But Catherine does not tell her truth to the people she loves. Ugh, everything that happened to Catherine was so unfair, but if she had even once told the truth, nothing would have happened.
This is one star. It’s competent writing, but the characters are repugnant and I could not give one whit of a damn about any of them. I never felt sorry for any of them because they were far too busy feeling sorry for themselves. There are ostensibly good people and Knight was so busy with her clever plotting to put any effort into making them likable.