Truth and Lies

All these Perfect Strangers - Aoife Clifford
Advanced reading copy - March 1st 2016 by Simon & Schuster AU

I was provided with an advanced copy by All these Perfect Strangers by NetGalley for an honest review.
A young woman with a complicated past attempts to secure a new future but as she undertakes treatment truth and lies weave together in a clever thriller.
Penelope has returned home after attending her first year at University, to a town that she hates and where a great number of people hate her. In an attempt to help her resolve and discuss her feelings about events that have occurred, her psychiatrist encourages Pen to commit to paper the story of what has occurred. We soon learn that Pen is linked to a series of murders that have been committed at University and we learn of an earlier incident as well.
This is fast paced and you are quickly devouring the words on the page. I knocked this book over in a day and I really did not want to put the novel down. You are from the first page just completely absorbed into Pen’s world and it is wonderful.
Clifford’s style is engaging and she succinctly captures small town and University life. You can smell, touch and taste what she captured on paper. There is a rich tapestry of characters that all carry their own unique stories and issues. As the story is told from Pen’s point of view we are limited to her perceptions of the characters. This is both useful and limiting as Pen I find is an unreliable witness.
The voice of Pen is what guides you through this tale and it will be a great talking point amongst book clubs as to whether she is a reliable witness to the events. I find her to be unreliable for a couple of reasons. The first being her naivety as she comes across lacking any worldly experience and her social awkwardness. At other times she appears savvy and aware of who is trying to manipulate her. She is a difficult character to come to terms with and that is a good thing. It is her perception of other characters that makes her as unreliable as a witness even further. How much do you believe of what she tells you about Rachel, Kesh, Rogan and Michael? Can you trust everything she says and is really a victim or the perpetrator of all these incidents?
I will not give away the ending but I have noted others have struggled with it and I did as well. I did go back and read over the text a couple of times to ensure I had not missed something. For me it does not quite work as what happens is outside of Pen’s sphere of influence and just seems to come from left field. There are some clues along the way (I think – the angina attack is related) but it certainly is a matter for debate at the book clubs.
Clifford has previously won some Ned Kelly awards for her short stories but her first full length published novel is a corker. It has all the right elements for a great thriller and the right mix of ambiguity to make you question what the truth is and what lies are being told. Grab a copy you will not be disappointed.