Book Review: Second Life
ashley | I was surprised by how much I loved S.J. Watson’s first novel, Before I Go To Sleep, so when I had the opportunity to review Second Life, I almost couldn’t wait to pick it up. I expected something similar to Before I Go To Sleep, but what I ended up with is something much closer to 50 Shades of Grey. I did not see that coming.
Like Before I Go To Sleep, Second Life merges a tragic situation (the mysterious death of Julia’s sister Kate) with a character’s pre-existing ailment (Julia’s drinking problem that is rearing its ugly head again), and then builds a number of other elements and threads of information on top of it all (why Julia adopted Kate’s son, who this former flame Marcus is, Kate’s online life, how all of this comes together to explain Kate’s death). Watson is really great at this formula, taking two strong foundations and weaving this gigantic web of theories and possibilities together until it takes on a life of its own.
And that’s when things start to get a little 50 Shades up in there. Julia thinks that exploring her dead sister’s online life by creating her own profile and talking to strangers is going to help bring her closer to her sister’s killer. But what it really does is (spoiler alert) start a sordid affair with a seemingly innocent widow who ends up being more Christian Grey than what he originally appears to be.
I was not expecting this to turn into sex-infused online voyeurism from a bored housewife. It seems to come out of nowhere. I didn’t get any impressions from the very beginning that Julia was bored and unsatisfied in her marriage. It was implied that she had kind of a wild life before Hugh, but it didn’t seem to allude to missing it or feeling like she had settled into this passionless life until her sister was found dead. Don’t get me wrong, Watson is a much better writer and everything doesn’t seem as cheap and formulated as the other, but had I known that this was the direction things were heading in, I probably wouldn’t have been in such a hurry to pick it up.
As soon as Julia started in on the affair, you hardly even hear her sister’s name again. She completely loses herself in it and the book starts to lose it for me. It isn’t too hard to see where things are leading, once the direction changes it’s easier to put the pieces together and figure things out, which is kind of a letdown.
But like I said, this book follows a formula and in the end, Watson does end up bringing out the big guns. I was pretty impressed with the twist in Before I Go to Sleep and had doubts by the middle of this book that this could live up to it. It didn’t, but the ending was definitely a lot better than I was expecting. You do see it building, but when all the pieces finally fall into place you do feel that satisfying click.