‘Remember Me This Way’ by Sabine Durrant

Fiction – Kindle edition; Mulholland Books; 368 pages; 2015.

When it comes to suspenseful psychological thrillers, Sabine Durrant has become a firm favourite of mine in recent years. She’s written five to date. Remember Me This Way, published in 2015, is her second.

It’s a gripping tale of a marriage that isn’t quite what it is cracked up to be. Lizzie, a school librarian, is quiet and passive, always pleasant, helpful and kind. Zach, a struggling artist, is self-possessed, devoted to his work and his wife. But when Zach dies in a car accident on a rural road, London-based Lizzie begins to realise the man she married is not who she thought he was.

A year after his death, when she finally works up the courage to pack up Zach’s private artist’s studio in Cornwall, a sense of dread and unease descends when she discovers items of his clothing missing and his laptop still plugged into the wall. She begins to believe that maybe he is still alive, that he faked his death in a twisted form of revenge after she wrote him a letter telling him that their marriage was over.

What follows is a fast-moving story that plays on the idea that we can never really know the people to whom we are closest.

Clever structure

But what makes this thriller slightly more original than others in a similar vein is the structure, for both characters narrate their side of events in alternate chapters (in different typefaces to aid comprehension): Zach tells his story pre-accident; Lizzie’s narrative is entirely post-accident.

This clever device allows us to see how the pair met and fell in love, but it also gives us (alarming) insights into their character traits and shows how Zach was a manipulative, controlling narcissistic who did everything in his power to keep Lizzie all to himself.

As the story unfolds, Lizzie comes to see the truth of Zach’s behaviour and begins to uncover, slowly but surely, all the lies he told to create a believable backstory for himself, the kind of backstory that would make Lizzie take pity on him. It is only in death that his artifice becomes exposed.

Narrative tension

As you would expect from a psychological thriller, there are plenty of twists and turns and red herrings and unexpected reveals that made it almost impossible to guess what is coming next. As a form of escapism, Remember Me This Way is an entertaining read. Durrant knows how to create terrific characters; she’s very good at narcissistic types and downtrodden middle-class Londoners, as these kinds of people also feature in her other novels.

And she knows how to get the pulse racing, how to create an atmosphere of fear and dread, and to lace everything with an air of menace and build up the suspense chapter by chapter.

But this is not a “dumb” novel. There is social commentary too: about domestic abuse (in all the many forms it takes, including coercive control) and how no one can ever really know what happens behind closed doors. The power plays between husbands and wives; parents and children; students and teachers; and even siblings; are all explored, to varying degrees, as well.

Remember Me This Way is a clever and suspenseful novel that doesn’t necessarily comply with the genre’s normal rules of engagement. I enjoyed the twisty ride it took me on, and am looking forward to reading Durrant’s new novel, which was released just a few weeks ago…

This is my 7th book for #20BooksofSummer / #20BooksOfSouthernHemisphereWinter. I purchased it on Kindle in November 2019.

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