June 09, 2015

A Second Life

By S.J. Watson
Review by
A life sliced in two in A Second Life.
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English audiologist-turned-author S.J. Watson made a big splash with his debut thriller, Before I Go to Sleep, in 2011. The book chronicled the struggles of a woman who suffers from an acute form of amnesia, and has to reconstruct the details of her life every day when she wakes up. Nicole Kidman starred in the much-anticipated (though tepidly received) big-screen version of Watson’s book, which was translated into over 40 languages.

Watson mines similar themes—the slippery nature of memory and reality, a married woman confronting some serious inner demons—in his follow up, A Second Life. The crippling effects of amnesia are here replaced by the rabbit hole of social media, where people are free to reinvent themselves—sometimes to disastrous, even murderous, results. Julia leads a seemingly placid life in London, though it’s not long before we learn about her dark past: alcoholism, a son who is, in fact, not hers biologically, a youthful bohemian phase she can’t quite let go of. When the tragic news arrives that Julia’s sister has been murdered, old wounds severely aggravate new ones.

Watson’s depiction of Julia’s familial and domestic struggles are convincing, particularly the little wars husbands and wives wage. Julia—whose sister’s death “sliced [her] life in two”—literally becomes another person (online) in pursuit of her sister’s killer. She also drifts into a romantic affair that quickly becomes disturbing on a number of levels, though it must be added that Watson’s portrayal of the dark side of Internet hook-ups feels rather dated, even if it is meant to be a reflection of Julia’s naivete. The eventual solution will either read as bold and risky, or simply frustrating. Either way, Watson can’t be accused of skimping on the twists and turns.

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A Second Life

A Second Life

By S.J. Watson
ISBN 9780062060587

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