What Alice Knew is a different kind of psychological thriller from some that I've been reading. Alice has a pretty good life- the wife of an obstetrician, two kids, fairly comfortable- but it all goes wrong when her husband gets drunk at a party and spends the night with a younger woman. A woman who then turns up dead. Her husband Ed is not the kind to stray, and indeed he even denies at first that he slept with her- if he did he doesn't remember it- but the police soon hone in on him as a prime suspect. So this is not a story of who did it- it's a story about what do you do when it's possible that your spouse killed someone.
The murder also appears to be accidental, if it was murder. Alice soon finds that she is pulled in different directions as she struggles with doing the right thing- whatever that is. Her own family history complicates things, as does her incomplete understanding of what actually happened. She also has to deal with the re- emergence of an old friend from school, who may not have her best interests at heart, and even acquaintances who may know more than she does.
Alice is also a portrait artist, and she spends a lot of time agonizing over the search for truth in art, and applying that to her life. That's part of the reason she thinks they should consider going to the police, which of course Ed opposes. For Alice truth is important, but not just because telling the truth is the right thing to do, but because again her art background demands truth. Or something. To be honest I thought this aspect of the book was overdone. I understand that her vocation is important to her, but given the circumstances it seemed way out of proportion to what was going on.
Ed was interesting too. He opposes going to the police not because he's afraid of being caught (although that is a concern), but he's worried about what it will do to their kids to have their father go to jail. Alice initially agrees with him, and the choices she makes are part of the draw of this story. Again, until her art concerns almost take over. At one point I was seriously wondering whether Alice had her priorities in the right place. She makes mostly good decisions although as time goes on I started to question her more and more.
The subplot regarding her old school friend was interesting, and provided some nice tension. Alice has a secret in her past that involves the two of them, and the timing is interesting that she reappears in Alice's life just when the murder occurs. The only issue I really have is the story moves kind of slowly. I was intrigued but it took a while to get going. And the end is one I'm very conflicted over. It came out of left field for me, and I have serious reservations about the choices the author made here. This of course makes the book perfect for discussion, and there's a lot to dissect here. A nice psychological thriller, light on the suspense but definitely worth talking about.
The ending is one I did not see coming, as I mentioned above. And I didn't really buy it, frankly. It did affect my enjoyment of the novel overall- after all, would someone really do that? Alice decides to take the fall for her husband, confessing to the murder- and while that's a pretty good twist, I just don't think it works. She has a troubled family history, with an overbearing mother who stinted on truth and affection while she was growing up, and that plays a role- Alice is dealing not only with what her husband did, but with baggage from her own youth. And the mental image she has of Ed and the kids having fun at the table, as if this somehow justifies her taking the fall- does she really think Ed is the one better suited to raise them?- just baffled me.
So what do you think? If you've read this I'd love to know your thoughts. Also what did you think of the subplot with Marnie/ Marianne? Aside from the art questions- I don't feel qualified to discuss the nuances of portraiture- I thought the shared history they had, and Alice's guilt, were very compelling and made a great addition to the story.