Review: What Happened That Night

What Happened That Night
What Happened That Night by Sheila O’Flanagan

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I don’t know why? but this is a book I didn’t expect to like. Yet I was roped in from the prologue: it’s done so well I just couldn’t stop wondering about it: is she jewel thief or event host? Is the hand that touches her shoulder welcome or feared? And I had no idea how it would end until literally the very last line.

It’s a new take on an age-old problem that all too many women can probably identify with: do I love him enough? And is that really my subconscious nagging me, telling me something’s wrong? Or am I just confused and overthinking it?

For me, What Happened That Night isn’t about the realness of setting, nor about vivid surroundings or the vitality of characters. What it gets spot on is emotion. The turmoil and turbulence of the stupid self-doubts that stir our minds. And not just any character’s – it’s Bey who’s the heart and soul, the very point of this story. Everyone pales into shadows next to the intensity of her feelings and passions.

This depiction of love for example:

Being in love – even if the object of her affection was totally unaware of it – was a bewildering yet exciting sensation. Every day, whether she saw him or not, [he] was always in her thoughts. Not necessarily at the front of them – after all, she was working hard on the projects Clara had given her and they needed her concentration – but she was conscious of his existence, of the fact that he was on the planet, that even when she couldn’t see him, he was out there somewhere. She was always alert for the sound of his footsteps on the stairs, or the moment when he might push open the door and say hello. The fact that he was away more than he was in the office didn’t matter. Her happiness was inextricably linked with his presence. Every day she didn’t see him was a crushing blow, but every passing day brought her closer to one when she would.

When I read this, my body tingled. My heart raced. My brain frazzled. I knew exactly what Bey was being set up for next. Because in the instant of reading, I felt it with her, and remembered who made me feel that way and how that ended up. And that’s O’Flanagan’s power.

But it doesn’t stop there. O’Flanagan perfectly conveys the misunderstandings experienced by her characters through internalization. And there is a conversation about projecting self-confidence early in the second half of the book that every woman should read.

But it’s not just for women: this is for any man who wants to understand why women stew and hash up the past:

‘Men can compartmentalise,’ said Eilis. ‘Women are terrible at that. We keep going on and on about things, letting them take over our heads until we’re wrecked. Meanwhile the men aren’t in the slightest bit bothered.’

And I love this snippet from her characters talking about families who date back centuries:

‘All our families date back just as far…It’s just that we haven’t kept track of them…And the only reason these ancient families are so rich is that their ancestors were better at raping and pillaging than ours.’

While some of the turning points are foreseeable, the human reactions are not. In fact the only bad I have to say is that some of the earlier scenes feel contrived – the discovery of the bank statements by Adele for one.

And what I love most of all is the unashamed Irishness and Englishness of it all: none of the names have been simplified into generic names for the US market.

This is a gorgeous read, one that I wish I’d read when I was in my early twenties. My life would have been so much different!

***I received a free copy of this book from Hachette Australia for my honest review***

View all my reviews

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