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by Paula Daly
Grove Press, October 2018
352 pages
ISBN: 0802128459

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Marketed generically as domestic suspense or domestic noir, OPEN YOUR EYES follows the travails of protagonist, Jane Campbell, who has her banal and cushy domestic life, as an almost stay-at-home mother (she teaches one creative writing course a year) of two beautiful children and an aspiring novelist, upended when her husband, the successful crime novelist, Leon Campbell, is assaulted in their Liverpool driveway—while the two cherubs sit in the backseat of the car, tuned in only to their electronic devices. Jane's claim to distinction, such as it is, is a panicky need to avoid confrontation at all cost, allowing her often combative husband to fight all battles, or making placatory murmurs to dissuade others from airing their grievances. With Leon in hospital, fighting for his life, Jane is forced to confront all the secrets that have enabled her to live obliviously in her warm domestic bubble, as she tries to determine why Leon was attacked and who the perpetrator might be.

Although Daly, through the voice of Leon's literary agent, describes Jane as a normal woman, she is anything but—and not in a good way. Blandly milquetoast, she seems a throwback to the '50s housewife, content to let her husband earn the money, pay the bills, and have a career, while she cooks, shuttles the children around, tends to her Victorian, and worries about her cat and neighbours. Even with the life-altering event of Leon's attack, she barely gets up the gumption to investigate what might prompt her husband to have enemies. As an investigator, she proves mediocre at best; indeed, when she is compared several times to Jane Marple, one can only smart at the insult to Christie's detective. Still, through some luck and the relative ineptitude of Leon's attacker, Jane, feeling altogether put upon, does eventually solve the mystery.

It is possible that OPEN YOUR EYES could appeal to readers of domestic suspense, but it is hardly the "gripping thriller" it is touted by the publisher to be. True, it does give some insight into the backbiting, literary world of casual plagiarism and bogus on-line reviewing—some of Jane's discoveries involve the (not particularly shocking) revelation that various authors' manipulation of starred reviews serve to up their own marketability and decrease that of their rivals.

But Daly's characters are curiously depthless and vague in their motivations. This is most definitely the case with all the secondary characters in the novel, who appear as cardboard figures, positioned strategically to further the plot or enhance the domestic thickness of the novel; but it is also the case with Jane Campbell, the narrator, who represents her in-laws, mother, friends, and even husband, as if they were mere fodder for a lame novelist (like herself) who can do nothing with them. Though we're supposed to have insight into Jane's thinking, her blindness to almost every aspect of her husband's life and her complete lack of curiosity are hard to fathom for someone aspiring to be an author herself, as is even her averred love for Leon, who comes across, not as a prize husband, but as an over-muscled, opinionated, bully (before and after his assault), whose secrets have precious little to do with keeping his wife safely cocooned in non-confrontational, homey bliss. By the end, even the partial restoration of that bliss, with all its implicitly gendered normalcy, is hardly reason to celebrate.

§ Nicola Nixon is Associate Professor of English at Concordia University, Montreal.

Reviewed by Nicola Nixon, September 2018

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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