‘Disclaimer’ by Renee Knight tells the story of Catherine Ravenscroft, a woman who starts reading a book entitled ‘The Perfect Stranger’ which she doesn’t remember buying and has mysteriously turned up on her bedside table in the chaos of moving house. However, although supposedly fictional, the story is about a real life-changing event which happened to Catherine twenty years ago. Neither her husband Robert nor her son Nicholas know about it and the words in the disclaimer “any resemblance to actual persons living or dead is unintentional and purely coincidental” have been deliberately crossed out in red ink. The author of the book is Stephen Brigstocke, a retired teacher who wants to make Catherine pay for what happened all of those years ago.
Widely compared to ‘The Girl on the Train’ by Paula Hawkins, another highly anticipated debut novel released earlier this year, ‘Disclaimer’ is a psychological mystery based on a unique and eye-catching premise. The chapters from Stephen’s point of view are written in the first person while Catherine’s story is told in the third person. The story alternates between Catherine and Stephen’s versions of events from both the past and present and while the first half is quite slow, the pace soon picks up.
For me, the ending of ‘Disclaimer’ really changed my perception of the whole book. On one hand, the story itself is a real page-turner and I read it quickly as the writing is very light. Knight is very skilled at manipulating the reader with new twists and turns. The structure is cleverly thought out, revealing certain events from the past alongside the present in a very particular order. On the other hand, while unreliable narrators and characters don’t usually hinder my enjoyment of a novel, I felt very detached from all of the main characters in ‘Disclaimer’, particularly Catherine’s husband Robert who I thought was underdeveloped. I also didn’t fully buy into the “big reveal” at the end as I found Catherine’s reaction to it quite uncomfortable and not wholly convincing. It is certainly more shocking and controversial compared to the fairly “quiet” endings of ‘The Girl on the Train’ and ‘Gone Girl’.
Overall, I enjoyed ‘Disclaimer’ more than ‘The Girl in the Red Coat‘ by Kate Hamer – one of the other big debut novels of 2015 – but I prefer ‘The Girl on the Train’ which worked more successfully as a thriller.