Book review: The Perfect Life by Nuala Ellwood

The hook “Have you evert wanted to be someone else?” was one I found hard to resist. Having loved The House on the Lake by the same author I couldn’t wait to start reading.

Vanessa has always found it easy to pretend to be somebody different, somebody better. When things get tough in her real life, all she has to do is throw on some nicer clothes, adopt a new accent and she can escape.

That’s how it started: looking round houses she couldn’t possibly afford. Harmless fun really. Until it wasn’t.

Because a man who lived in one of those houses is dead.

And everyone thinks Vanessa killed him…

As someone who’s made a living from nosing around other people’s houses I could immediately empathise with Nessa. Although I wasn’t really sure why she needed to assume false identities for her viewings, it’s an enjoyable situation. Her hobby soon takes a sinister turn, making you wonder what else she’s capable of lying about.

The story’s told in two timeframes – the tense, claustrophobic present narrative, in which the perfect life she’s established with the career and man of her dreams is crashing down around her; and her childhood, where she retreated from the tragedy of her mother’s death into the comforting world of a storybook about a house where the character makes friends with ghost children. I especially loved this element which for me set it apart from lots of other domestic suspense stories.

As the house in which the man’s body’s found is where the children’s stories were set, and the body identified as the author, the death starts to look less like a coincidence, forcing her to question her own memory. Throughout the book you’re questioning whether events and people are what they seem.

This is a creepy, chilling, intense read that gripped me from the start and wouldn’t let go. I ‘d recommend it to fans of psychological suspense.

The Perfect Life will be published by Penguin in March 2021. Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for a review copy.


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