Catherine Steadman: Mr Nobody
Published By: Simon and Schuster UK
Available online and from all good bookshops
What They Say:
When a man is found on a Norfolk beach, drifting in and out of consciousness, with no identification and unable to speak, interest in him is sparked immediately. From the hospital staff who find themselves inexplicably drawn to him; to international medical experts who are baffled by him; to the national press who call him Mr Nobody; everyone wants answers. Who is this man? And what happened to him?
Neuropsychiatrist Dr Emma Lewis is asked to assess the patient. This is her field of expertise, this is the chance she’s been waiting for and this case could make her name known across the world. But therein lies the danger. Emma left this same small town in Norfolk fourteen years ago and has taken great pains to cover all traces of her past since then.
But now something – or someone – is calling her back. And the more time she spends with her patient, the more alarmed she becomes.
Has she walked into danger?
What I Say:
When I read and reviewed Catherine’s previous novel, Something In the Water , I realised I had found that rare thing, an author who had written a novel where I could not guess one of the twists!
I love the fact that sometimes as a reader, you are as much in the dark as the protagonist, and that the discoveries they make along the way are just as fresh for you as for them. When I was lucky enough to receive a copy of Catherine’s latest novel Mr.Nobody from the wonderful LoveReading I have to admit I was a little concerned that it wouldn’t be able to live up to the brilliance of her first novel.
I think it’s even better.
A man, bruised, battered and absolutely bewildered is found wandering on a beach in Norfolk. He is unable to speak, has no memory of who he is or how he got there. Added to this, he has no identification on him and no one has reported him missing. He is taken to a local hospital where no one is able to reach him, until the renowned Dr Emma Lewis is hand picked to work on his case. Her curiosity is piqued as she has to go through various faceless bureaucratic hoops to gain access to Mr. Nobody, and none of her contacts will truly tell her what is happening, or why they are so evasive.
So far so straightforward. However, Emma was not always called Emma Lewis. It transpires she has a very chequered past with the same small town in Norfolk, after a family tragedy (of course I am not going to tell you what that is – you need to read it!) which meant that she and her family had to move far away and assume new identities.
You can imagine the jaw dropping moment for Emma – and for us as a reader, When she meets Mr Nobody, he calls her by her previous name as soon as he sets eyes on her! He also knew very private information about the Nurse called Rhonda who he has formed a bond with, which he could not have possibly known. Already there is a huge sense of unease in the novel, a delicious sense of anticipation as to what is come, and for me, that is what elevates a story from readable to unmissable, and Mr. Nobody has that in spades.
As this case is so high profile, and potentially dangerous for Emma, she is given police protection. One of the police officers assigned to the case is her old friend Chris who knew her when she lived here before, and recognises her immediately – he is now married to a story hungry and not particularly likeable journalist called Zara who will stop at nothing to get to the heart of Mr. Nobody, and will use anyone, even her husband to get to the story before everyone else. As appalling as Zara’s ethics were, it was interesting to see how someone so driven was so willing to put the story above everything else.
Told in alternating viewpoints from The Man and Emma – this device works well and switches easily and also keeps us on our toes. Mr. Nobody starts to remember things and flashes of memory come back, and we follow him as he attempts to try and piece together what is happening to him now, and what has brought him to this specific beach in Norfolk.
The brilliance of the novel is compounded by the fact that the style is pacy, the narrative believable, and it also brings up many issues of how we as a society cope with people who do not function in the way we do. We get a real sense of the frustration Mr Nobody feels and his bewilderment as to his mental state. Also the book is very frank in its treatment of people who are guilty by association and when Emma’s identity is revealed, we see the way in which the press move and how ruthless Zara is to be the first person with the story.
I also thought that it was interesting to see how both Emma and Mr. Nobody have to deal with the themes of identity and belonging. Even though Emma grew up there, she no longer really belongs, and has had to create a whole new identity to survive. Similarly, Mr. Nobody has no idea where he is from or where he has been, and he survives by trying to remember anything to give him that sense of place or time. The brief flashes of recollection are peppered with a sense of fear and pain, as he cannot put them into any tangible order and this adds to his sense of dislocation even further.
As the novel hurtles towards its conclusion, Emma unravels Mr.Nobody’s true identity and reason for appearing on that particular beach at that particular time. It is an intricate and detailed plot, which means that you are fully engaged with it, but also that you turn the pages faster as you want to see who Mr. Nobody truly is! It was for me, one of those novels where it is so tightly plotted and executed that you absolutely understand every character’s motivation and actions – although you might not always like them, they are real and fallible, and that is what makes the story work so well.
In the hands of a lesser writer, Mr. Nobody could have been a novel that seemed too bizarre and ambitious to work effectively. However, Catherine Steadman not only engaged me from the outset of the novel, but her clever and intelligent story had me absolutely hooked and the fact that I could not guess where the narrative was going next, only added to my enjoyment of it.
I loved it.
that Emma and Matthew are both having to deal with the notion of identity and belonging, of celebrity and loss.
I loved it.
Thank you as always to LoveReadingUK for my gifted copy in exchange for an honest review.