Memphis Reads – Disclaimer by Renee Knight

Staff Book Reviews

Disclaimer by Renee Knight Book coverJoshua reviews DISCLAIMER by Renee Knight (Harper, 2015)
Disclaimer, the debut novel by British author Renee Knight, is another example of the “unreliable narrator” category of novels, such as Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train, that have become so popular in recent years. This book has drawn favorable comparisons to those two novels, and I found it to be a worthwhile and suspenseful read.

Knight’s novel uses the “book-within-a-book” device to set the story in motion, as the main character Catherine, a married documentary filmmaker, discovers an unfamiliar book, titled The Perfect Stranger, in her new home and begins to realize that the story depicted in its pages is her own. The book’s disclaimer (“Any resemblance to persons living or dead…”) has been crossed out in red ink, thus the title of Knight’s book.

The book Catherine finds has been ghost-written by an elderly widower, a retired (in disgrace) schoolteacher, who found his deceased wife’s unpublished manuscript in an old desk, and has worked it up for publication in order to send a message to Catherine. The man’s book is a thinly fictionalized (Catherine’s name has been changed to Charlotte, for example) account of a vacation twenty years earlier on the coast of Spain where Catherine, then a young mother whose husband had gone back to England for work, met the author’s twenty-year old son. A tragedy occurred during the vacation, and The Perfect Stranger is the man’s attempt to make Catherine pay for her apparent role in the horrific events that befell his family.

As with all of the books in this sub-genre, things are not as they first seem. Disclaimer is told in alternating narrator fashion, with chapters about Catherine in third-person and those about the older man in first-person as he describes his vengeful intentions. As the two narratives draw closer together, we learn that the true story of what happened in Spain two decades earlier is very different from the reality that we have been led to believe all along.

While there are some loose ends of the story that I still have questions about, I really enjoyed Disclaimer, and I would definitely recommend it to readers who have read books along the lines of those I mentioned at the beginning of this review and would be interested in novels with similar stories. Even though this book doesn’t have “Girl” in the title as so many of these do!

Joshua Thomas, Central Library