Skin Deep by Liz Nugent

The Blurb On The Back:

Cordelia Russell lives on the Côte d’Azur.  For years she’s acted the part of the wealthy English divorcée.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

Tonight, she will spend a final decadent night at a glittering party.  Surrounded by the young, beautiful and privileged she will forget her age and her poverty.

But when dawn breaks she will stumble home through the back streets to her door.  Where flies buzz over the decomposing corpse lying in her bedroom …

You can order Skin Deep by Liz Nugent from Amazon USAAmazon UK, Waterstone’s or Bookshop.org UK.  I earn commission on any purchases made through these links.

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

It’s 2017.  Cordelia Russell is a 50-something year old woman who lives in Nice, France.  Once beautiful (although she still looks younger than her years) and used to mingling with the rich and powerful, she’s fallen on hard times and rough liquor but a chance encounter with a well-to-do American takes her to the type of decadent party she used to enjoy and offers a chance to forget the corpse that she’s left back in her flat.

How Cordelia found herself in this situation is a story that begins in her past, back when she was a child living with her parents and 3 brothers on the small island of Inishcrann off the coast of Ireland; back when she was plain Delia O’Flaherty and her dad told her that one day she would be the queen of the island …

Liz Nugent’s psychological thriller is a shallow, blank affair that wastes an intriguing opening to follow the life story of the vapid, self-absorbed protagonist who lacks wit, intelligence or self-awareness and whose beauty means that others project onto her, which she tries to use for her own ends and ultimately fails.  There’s no tension, I didn’t care about Delia and frankly the story bored me so the downbeat ending left me very blah.

The beginning of the book is really intriguing and gave me high hopes for the rest.  The fact that it opens with Delia having just killed someone really grabs the attention and I was intrigued as Nugent uses Delia’s need to get out of her flat as a way to slowly reveal Delia’s straitened circumstances, her isolation and her willingness to use people.  I wanted to know what she was going to do when she got back to the apartment.  And that’s exactly when the story lost me because instead of picking straight up and carrying on, we go back to 1975 when Delia was a little girl on a small island with an abusive father who kept telling her she was special.

Nugent makes a big deal of how Delia was repeatedly told how special she is by her father in order to make clear how Delia clearly isn’t special (most notably in a scene where despite her working really hard at the last minute to get good grades in her exams, she doesn’t get the grades to go to medical school).  The problem is that Delia’s so lacking in self-awareness, so lacking in consideration for other people, and so lacking in any intelligence or wit that would make the reader root for her on some level (even as an anti-hero).  She’s really just a pretty face who people such as her adopted parents, her first boyfriend and then her husband project onto only to be let down and have their lives damaged as a result.  That’s fine insofar as it goes but it reinforces how lacking in personality she is and I kept wanting to go back to the murder and where she was rather than find out about her childhood and teenager years and tedious marriage.

The superficiality of the book is reinforced by the storyline between Delia and her son, Jamie.  Delia’s failure to bond with her son is supposed to emphasise how emotionally cold and selfish she is, especially her lack of concern for him after the incident that leaves them both with terrible burns.  I didn’t have a problem with her being cold (there’s a WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN vibe to it) but it’s all absence of emotional with no further characterisation, she doesn’t want the kid and she doesn’t care about it and that’s it – once you’re told that there’s no further depth and that prevents it from ever really getting interesting.  It’s particularly apparent in Delia’s non-reaction to Jamie’s letters in the last quarter of the book, which is just so one note and blank that I couldn’t care about her.  And the reason why that’s a problem is because of the way the book ends, where I think Nugent wants the reader to feel something for Delia and her fate other than the big blah that actually came from me – the pitiful nature of her fate as compared with her earlier behaviour wasn’t so much a case of thinking she deserved it as just not being bothered by it.

Ultimately for a psychological thriller there just wasn’t enough psychological characterisation or thrills in this for me.  Delia isn’t evil or manipulative or smart or cunning enough to work as an anti-hero and despite the great set up, the pacing falls off once we’re stuck going through Delia’s life story and afterwards really plods and the pay off for the murder is weak and comes at a point when I had long given up caring.  Given this wasn’t my cup of tea, I can’t say that I’d rush to try one of Nugent’s other books. 

Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.

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