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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction



Renée Knight

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To purchase Disclaimer

Title: Disclaimer
Author: Renée Knight
Genre: Novel
Written: 2015
Length: 336 pages
Availability: Disclaimer - US
Disclaimer - UK
Disclaimer - Canada
Disclaimer - India
Révélée - France
Deadline - Deutschland

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Our Assessment:

B : fine writing and decent twist, but much of the plot forced

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Age . 24/5/2015 Anne Susskind
The Guardian . 3/4/2015 Laura Wilson
The NY Times A- 28/5/2015 Janet Maslin
The Spectator . 27/6/2015 Jeff Noon

  From the Reviews:
  • "Labelled as "or domestic noir", in the genre of the best-selling Gone Girl, Knight's debut novel is similarly told, from the different perspectives of each of its players, but I found it rather slower and (in an appealing way) more plainly written. Still, I couldn't put it down and its twists and turns continued to surprise me. (...) The book's ending, which ties together a remarkable number of strands, feels emotionally true and is surprisingly satisfying." - Anne Susskind, The Age

  • "(T)his strong and compelling portrait of two individuals who are forced to confront unpalatable, even unbearable, truths." - Laura Wilson, The Guardian

  • "(A)n outstandingly clever and twisty tale that’s been perfectly engineered to make heads spin. (...) She’s a very gifted plotter with a keen sense of timing. (...) But Ms. Knight also shows some glaring awkwardness as a writer. To put it mildly, she can be purple." - Janet Maslin, The New York Times

  • "The truth shifts back and forth. Catherine has been written into her own fictional story, portrayed as a victim, but her character is fighting back against the author. Intriguing." - Jeff Noon, The Spectator

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Disclaimer opens in the spring of 2013, Catherine Ravenscroft having immersed herself in a book -- the self-published The Perfect Stranger, by E.J.Preston -- that had mysteriously appeared in the household and which hits much too close to home:

     "Any resemblance to persons living or dead ..." The disclaimer had a neat red line through it. A message she failed to notice when she opened the book. There is no mistaking the resemblance to her. She is a key character, a main player.
       The Perfect Stranger recounts events that happened twenty years earlier -- the gist soon revealed in Disclaimer, though the details are only slowly filled in, and the full picture only emerges very late on. Disclaimer shifts back and forth between Catherine and Stephen Brigstocke, a retired teacher and widower, and the one responsible for the novel.
       Catherine is a successful documentary filmmaker, married to Robert, a lawyer. They have an underachieving son, Nicholas, who is in his mid-twenties, and they've just moved to a smaller house. Catherine never told her husband about what happened twenty years earlier -- and now everything about those events comes back to haunt her.
       Stephen, who had lost his wife, Nancy, a few years earlier and who had also had a son, Jonathan, is clearly out for some sort of vengeance. The book -- copies of which he also delivers to Nicholas, and then to Robert (as well as selling them at the local bookstore) -- is the very effective tool for that. Catherine identifies Stephen as her would-be tormentor fairly quickly, but that's hardly the end of it; he has an agenda and she doesn't quite know how to handle things and things spin very much out of control.
       Disclaimer relies very much -- far too much -- on a lack of communication. Twenty years earlier, Catherine failed to tell her husband what had happened on the family vacation in Spain after he had to leave early. She doesn't immediately come clean in the present-day, either -- and when she wants to, Robert refuses to listen. Similarly, when she goes to confront Stephen, early on, he refuses to come to the door. It extends throughout the novel: even when everything has been wrapped up, Catherine comes to a major, life-changing decision -- and, of course: "She hasn't told him yet."
       Disclaimer has a great premise -- that book, recounting events from her past, that falls (well, is essentially thrust) into Catherine's hands -- and also takes on some big themes: of guilt, sacrifice, and vengeance, the lies we tell, the secrets we keep, and what we hope and imagine for our children. It has all the ingredients -- you can practically see Knight's checklist. Beyond that, the writing is solid. But it's also a story that relies on information being withheld or miscommunicated (or rather being poorly communicated). Knight has to keep certain details vague until the 'right' time -- and she has to keep her characters ignorant (or in a state of having wrongly interpreted evidence, and unreceptive to information that might correct those impressions). Typically, Catherine envies her mother -- slowly losing her marbles -- for being able to put a positive spin on whatever she is faced with -- an escapism that seems agreeable enough on the surface and in the moment, but can't obscure the truth (that mom is going to be helplessly demented soon enough).
       Rather unsatisfactory, too, is that the revelation of the truth also leads a character to take the most extreme of steps -- yet another (im)moral twist, late in the tale. Arguably it's the only way of dealing with the truth, devastating as it is; still, it feels like too easy of an out. In fact, the truth may set them all free (in one form or another), but it shakes up their lives pretty much as much as the (misinterpretations of the) secret did.
       The pieces are all here, but frustratingly the fit doesn't completely work. In summary -- and in its writing -- Disclaimer is a thriller with all the goods; in effect, not nearly as much.

- M.A.Orthofer, 19 May 2015

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Disclaimer: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Renée Knight is a British screenwriter and author.

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© 2015 the complete review

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