Written by SJ Watson — Coming as it does just a couple of days before Valentine’s Day and the arrival in cinemas of 50 Shades of Grey, 12 February seems a good day for SJ Watson’s second novel to arrive. Because Second Life is about love, be it motherly love, sisterly love, romantic love or the love that teeters on the edge of obsession.
Julia is a woman with a chequered past, the details of which are gradually revealed to us as the story progresses. Her present is pretty unusual too. She and her surgeon husband Hugh have the care of Connor, who is actually their nephew but has been brought up as their son. It’s not something they’ve ever hidden away from the boy, who is now a teenager, and the three lead a pretty happy existence in the London suburbs, with Julia beginning to return to the photography that once made her name.
Then Julia’s sister Kate, who lives in Paris, begins to insist that she wants Connor back. It is a disturbing and unsettling turn of events, but not as unsettling as what happens next. Kate is murdered in a seemingly motiveless killing that leaves Julia in turmoil. She is beside herself with grief at her sister’s death. However… there’s a tiny part of Julia that is glad, as it means no further complications over Connor.
Still, Julia can’t rid herself of images of her sister dying alone in a Parisian alleyway, and when she discovers Kate was a regular on an internet dating site called encounterz, she decides to do a little investigating of her own. Big mistake, because rather than dipping her toe into the online dating scene, Julia dives in head first and is gradually engulfed in a tsunami from which there appears to be no escape.
First, she and a man called Lukas, who is based in Milan, begin to chat. Before long they are indulging in cyber sex, and then he asks to meet Julia (or Jayne, as she has been calling her online persona). Thus begins a full-on relationship that progresses with frightening intensity. What is Julia doing? Once she was at rock bottom and Hugh saved her. Is she about to let that carefully constructed, perfectly predictable second chance at life slip through her fingers? Unable to confess her infidelity to her closest friends, Julia turns instead to Anna, Kate’s friend and flatmate. As the pair become closer, Julia puts her faith in Anna and the pair confide in each other by phone and online.
Second Life is definitely a book of its time – technology plays a huge part and it will leave you looking at your social media activities in a different light. Are those Facebook friends really all that friendly? What does that little app on your phone actually do? Who can you really trust?
SJ Watson’s debut Before I Go To Sleep was a runaway success, which won the hearts of critics and readers alike and even spawned a movie starring Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman. Second Life is a disturbing, dark and dramatic thriller that sets you on the edge of your seat and keeps you there. On occasions I wished I could put my hand into the pages and give Julia good shake, but that would have hindered my page turning. So instead I just kept on reading. This is one of those books where, when you reach the end, you get a sudden feeling of loss because you’ve been so engrossed in another fictional world. Grab a copy and you’ll see what I mean.
Second Life is released 12 February.
CFL Rating: 5 Stars