Review – Second Life by SJ Watson

By | February 10, 2015

Julia’s life is comfortable, if unremarkable, until her sister’s brutal murder opens old wounds. She finds solace in her sister’s best friend, Sophie, but when Sophie reveals the extent of her sister’s online life, Julia becomes convinced that the truth about her death lies deep in the dark, sordid world of online chatrooms and internet sex.

What begins as Julia’s search for the truth about her sister quickly turns into an exploration of herself and her own desires. After all, the internet is her playground, and why be just one thing when you can be as many as you like? What could possibly go wrong? After all, it’s only cybersex, isn’t it? No one’s going to get hurt.

But then she meets the dark and mysterious Lukas in an online chat room, and things begin to get very dangerous indeed.

Did everyone read Before I Go To Sleep? I did – and I loved it as much as you probably did.  You might have been to see the film too – spotting the parts where the film didn’t follow the book, marvelling at Nicole Kidman’s limited range of facial expressions, debating whether Colin Firth was the right choice to play the husband – and wondering if the plot gaps that were so visible in the film were there in the book too (surely not!). That book – the author’s first – received such stellar acclaim that it was always going to be a hard act to follow, and I couldn’t wait to read Second Life, to be published on 12th February by Doubleday.

I very rarely review a book I didn’t enjoy, but I’m going to be honest about this one – this review will quickly be overtaken by others from people who loved it – and say that this wasn’t the book for me. There were a few reasons for that. The whole premise of Julia’s addictive personality and the way she got into the online chatrooms was fine – maybe not particularly original, but well handled. But the way she acts thereafter – I know you sometimes need to suspend disbelief when reading a thriller, but this woman makes one bad decision after another, not changing direction when every rational bone in her body tells her to do so, putting her family and life on the line way beyond the limits of credibility. 

But I decided to roll with it, see where the story went. The writing is fine – keeps you turning the pages. The family relationships, the interactions with friends, Julia’s relationship with the bottle – all well enough done. Had the sex scenes had more of an erotic edge, I guess the book could be read on that level – but they didn’t quite hit the mark for me. I found Lukas’ dramatic personality change considerably less than convincing too. And as for the twist at the end – I flipped back through the book to see if I should have seen it coming, but the clues really just weren’t there.

Am I being harder on this one because of the book that came before? Would I have liked it better had it come in a plain brown wrapper rather than with the fanfare of trumpets and the author’s name on the cover? I’m not sure really – I think I actually might not have read it through to the end. On the author’s name alone, I’m sure this book will be an enormous best seller – but I’m sorry to say it wasn’t a read I enjoyed.

My thanks to netgalley and publishers Doubleday for my advance reading copy.

S J Watson was born in the UK, lives in London and worked in the NHS for a number of years. In 2011 Watson’s debut novel, Before I Go to Sleep, was released to critical acclaim. It has now been published in over 40 languages, and has become an international bestseller, winning numerous awards. 

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