Underneath by Anne Goodwin
I loved the sound of the blurb for this book and had enjoyed Anne Goodwin’s previous novel, Sugar and Snails, so I was looking forward to reading Underneath. I think the blurb is brilliant and it really drew me into this book and had me eager to read it. As the reader, already knowing the cellar is going to be put to more sinister use made every mention of the word intriguing and because we already have an idea of what is to come, I raced through this book in anticipation of everything unravelling. I read this book with a sense of foreboding that the author delivered beautifully. There was always that apprehension and a feeling that something bad was going to happen, and this had me glued to my Kindle, my day lost in this menacing novel.
Steve and Liesel are in the early stages of their fast-moving relationship. Liesel has moved in, something which Steve had planned for and hoped for. He is quite obsessed with her, always thinking about her, jealous when she mentions other people, but there is a chemistry and fire in their relationship which they both find addictive. But one day, Liesel has something else on her mind. She wants a baby. She’s determined they’d make good parents and she’s already worked out when she’s most fertile. She hasn’t even considered that Steve doesn’t want to be a dad, but when he makes that clear to her, she threatens to leave him. Steve only knows one way to get her to stay…
Steve was a messed up character and I found him utterly fascinating. He has an obsessive personality and everything he seems to say or think has twisted layers to it and because of that, he was really compelling and engaging. From very early on in the book he had me engrossed, waiting in suspense to see what was to come from him. We get insights into his family and his childhood which give us more of an impression of why he is the person he is, but regardless of anything we learn about him, he always made my skin crawl. He was absolutely vile whether that was due to his upbringing, his mental health or otherwise. His family life was a strange one. I was just as interested learning about his sisters and his mother than I was him and Liesel. Whilst this book is told from Steve’s perspective, this didn’t prevent me from getting to know the other main characters too, and I found hearing about them through Steve’s viewpoint made me see the characters in a different way and question everybody’s motives more.
Personally I preferred the first half of this book more than the second. There was something about the way the author gradually builds up the tension that had me gripped by the book from page one to the level I couldn’t bring myself to put it down because I was desperate to know what was going to happen next and see how the tension would be stepped up. But when that moment comes, the one I had been waiting for, what followed didn’t have that same edge to me. I still liked trying to work out what would happen next, but the tension felt a bit lacking and parts became a bit confusing. I couldn’t always work out what was happening and the ending left me baffled.
Underneath is a real slowburner that well draws upon dysfunctional families and the implications they can have on the rest of your life. I particularly enjoyed looking back upon Steve’s childhood and some of the things he went through. It’s almost as if the author is testing the reader into seeing whether we can find any sympathy for a man who is so very twisted, and though I could see how traumatic some of his childhood was, I didn’t find any sympathy for him in the end. Whilst this is an engaging psychological thriller, I felt at times it could have been made to be even more thrilling, although the author does nail the psychological part as the characters’ actions and their mental health were very interesting and thought-provoking. This is a book that I have definitely found difficult to get off my mind.