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Thursday 6 November 2014

‘You Should Have Known’ by Jean Hanff Korelitz

Published by Faber & Faber,
6 March 2014.
ISBN: 978-0-571-30751-7 (Hardback)

Finding the police at your door is always bad news.

But imagine how you’d feel if they’re not there to tell you someone has died, but that you are under suspicion of being involved in a dreadful crime you know nothing whatever about.

Now imagine that the perpetrator of that crime is your spouse: someone you know intimately, and would never in a million years believe could possibly be guilty. Except s/he is.

That’s the premise at the centre of You Should Have Known.

And just to give the knife a even more vicious twist, the protagonist Grace Sachs is a psychologist, a couples counsellor with a self-help book about to be published – and the premise of that book is that the way to avoid a marriage which collapses a few years in is to be observant and honest before the marriage even happens, because all the traits which bring about the collapse are there from the outset, in full view, if only we’re willing to see them.

It’s not a murder mystery. The murder happens off-stage, and it’s immediately plain who the perpetrator is. It’s described as a psychological thriller, and it certainly contains a lot of psychological insights, and quite a few shocks as Grace’s whole life comes to pieces in her hands. She is forced to rethink every aspect of it as she slowly comes to terms not only with the indisputable fact that her beloved husband of twenty years is a psychopathic killer, but also with the shocking truth that she has completely failed to see all the signs, and is no different from the patients she sets out to help and advise.

It’s a rich, meaty novel with big themes and complex characters, and thoroughly readable. At the centre of it is Grace herself, who, with all her self-doubt and confusion, is someone most women will engage and empathize with; and her almost-teenage son Henry, who is more delightful than any twelve-year-old boy I’ve ever met, but real and human nonetheless. Jonathan, the newly revealed psychopath, never appears in person, but Korelitz succeeds in bringing him to dangerous, slightly frightening life. Even the city cops, a staple of much American crime fiction, avoid the clichés and have layers and depth.

The author clearly has first-hand knowledge of a certain kind of middle-class life in New York, and no less so semi-rural Connecticut, where Grace and Henry run away to. By the end of the book I felt I knew far more about both city and country, though occasionally I would have welcomed a glossary. 

It’s a hugely satisfying read: a book to linger over and savour. It’s well written, well researched, and above all a page-turner which will keep you reading, if only to find out what appalling revelation fate can throw at Grace next.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

Jean Hannff Korelitz was raised in New York City and graduated from Dartmouth College and Clare College, Cambridge. She has contributed articles and essays to many magazines, including Vogue, Real Simple, Newsweek, Reader's Digest, More and Travel and Leisure (Family), and the anthologies Modern Love and Because I Said So. She lives in Princeton, New Jersey with her husband, Princeton professor Paul Muldoon, and their children, and works full time as a writer and part time as a chauffeur (i.e. mom).
In 2006 and 2007 she worked for Princeton's Office of Admission as an outside reader.

Lynne Patrick has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen, and has enjoyed success with short stories, reviews and feature journalism, but never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to the dark side to become a publisher for a few years, and is proud to have launched several careers which are now burgeoning. She lives on the edge of rural Derbyshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.

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