By N.J. Fountain
Published by Sphere (E-book - out now; Paperback - 29 December 2016)
I cannot go on like this. I feel such a burden to you. You are young and can start again. You deserve that chance. By the time you read this I will be dead. Do not grieve for me, for I am now without pain.
Yours truly for ever,
Monica suffers from chronic neuropathic pain. Every second of her life is spent in agony, and she is coping with it the best she can. However, there are whole years of her life which are a blur to her.
But when she finds a suicide note, written in her handwriting, she begins to question everything. She has no memory of writing it - so who did? And if someone tried to kill her once, what's to say they won't try again . . .
The main protagonist in Painkiller has chronic neuropathic pain - and this is what attracted me to the book in the first place. Monica takes strong medication that can cause memory loss in high doses. When she finds her own suicide note but doesn't remember writing it, she wonders if someone tried to kill her and whether they could try again.
I found myself reviewing this book from three angles. Firstly, as a reader/reviewer. Secondly, as a health journalist. And thirdly, as someone who suffers from a chronic pain condition.
As a reader/reviewer, I thought Painkiller was well written and compelling. I read most of the book in one sitting. It started out much more seriously than it ended, with plenty of dark humour, and did become less believable as it approached the final few chapters. Because of Monica's memory loss, she didn't know who she should trust. This enticed me to keep reading - because I was clueless too. The ending was a complete surprise but felt a little rushed - a lot happened in a short space of time, with several twists and turns. It certainly made for some fast-paced reading, but I did find it confusing in places.
As a health journalist, I thought the book was well researched. More about the chronic pain element below, but the author has clearly looked into the background and treatments. My only quibble is that I don't want others with chronic pain to be put off taking prescribed medication, as the underlying message within the book is fairly hard hitting - that taking strong medication for chronic pain can leave you bed bound and drifting in and out of sleep with little memory or concentration. I wouldn't want anyone reading this book to avoid going to the GP for help, as there are many treatment options available. At certain doses (and this will differ for each person), prescribed medication for chronic pain can be very effective and with fewer side effects than the protagonist experiences.
As a chronic pain sufferer, I thought the protagonist's thoughts and feelings were very realistic. At the beginning of each chapter, Monica wakes up and assesses how she feels that day. The book portrayed very well what it's like to live with an invisible illness - you look fine on the outside, but inside you may feel like you're falling apart. It's great that Painkiller highlights these issues to the wider world.
I'm sure Painkiller will appeal to many psychological thriller fans - especially those who loved Girl On The Train and Gone Girl. It could also make it a 'marmite' book - one that people will love or hate - and definitely a book to talk about afterwards. It's certainly a book that I would recommend to anyone who is looking for a psychological thriller that's 'different' from the current trend.
I received an Advance Reader Copy.