When a mysterious note arrives for seven months pregnant nurse Eliana Hughes, she begins to doubt every aspect of her life – from her mixed feelings about motherhood to her marriage to Martin, who has become distant in recent months.
As the person behind the note escalates their campaign to out Eli’s husband as a cheat, she finds herself unable to trust even her own instincts, and as pressure builds she makes a mistake that jeopardises her entire future.
Elsewhere, someone is watching. Someone who desperately wants a baby to call their own and will go to any lengths to become a mother – and stay a mother…
Following on from Her Name was Rose, Claire Allan’s Apple of my Eye is another standalone psychological thriller that features an extremely damaged character and examines how this person can affect the lives of those around them. Eliana Hughes is under a lot of pressure as she is seven months pregnant and is working in a hospice. When an anonymous note is delivered to her workplace that implies that her husband is having an affair, it plays on her existing fears and paranoia about her relationship with him and she begins to question everything in her life. She soon doesn’t know who to trust.
As the title suggests, the book is about motherhood in its many forms: the mother, the expectant mother, the grieving mother, and the grandmother. It’s a book that examines these roles on their own as well as the relationships between them and how we move between them at different points in our lives. Refreshingly, the book features a woman who is not enjoying her pregnancy so it feels much more realistic than the numerous books that feature women with uncomplicated pregnancies. Eliana’s extreme morning sickness has caused her to be exhausted and she has questioned from the beginning whether motherhood is for her. In addition, her husband Martin travels a lot for work so she is alone a lot, making it even harder for her. When Eliana receives the anonymous note, he professes his innocence but she’s not sure whether she can trust him or not. Eliana’s mother Angela lives in Belfast and is very close to her daughter but she is also overbearing and becomes overprotective when Martin’s fidelity is questioned.
The book also features a second narrative that focuses on the story of Louise, a woman who has just lost her baby. She describes her heartache after experiencing a devastating stillbirth following several miscarriages and describes how she still yearns for a child even if it isn’t hers. The story shifts between Eli’s, Angela’s, and Louise’s narratives with a distinct sense of dread in each and Allan masterfully builds suspense throughout until we find out how they are related. The book also hinges on misdirection. There is a wealth of psychological thrillers being published at the moment but Allan’s book seems to go that little bit further and hits a little bit closer to home, I would argue, because of its realism.
Allan has a distinct gift for intimately describing the minds of damaged women. Like Her Name was Rose, Apple of my Eye is a story of dangerous obsession. Both books feature characters that are delusional and dangerous but are strangely sympathetic at the same time. Allan is also incredibly talented at playing on readers’ own very real fears: the loss of a child, the loss of family, the loss of a relationship and creates very real characters that readers can easily identify with, even the damaged characters.
On a personal note, this was a particularly hard read for me. As someone who experienced a stillbirth myself in early 2019, I approached the book with trepidation but I found that the topic was handled with acute sensitivity. Although it borders on sensationalism at times, Louise thinks and does some unimaginable things but it’s always very clear that it’s out of the pain and desperation for the child she lost. Allan also treats end-of-life care with due respect and compassion, showing her propensity for tackling some of life’s hardest and most traumatic topics.
Allan has once again demonstrated that she’s one of the best and most interesting thriller writers working today. Apple of my Eye is a gripping book with a thrilling pace that again has a very distinct sense of place. Partially set in Derry, a place very much in the news at the moment for both positive and negative reasons, Allan celebrates her home drawing on its nuances and demonstrating that its a place that needs to be featured more in fiction.
About the author
Claire Allan is a former journalist from Derry in Northern Ireland, where she still lives with her husband, two children, two cats and a hyperactive puppy.
In her eighteen years as a journalist, she covered a wide range of stories, from attempted murders, to court sessions, to the Saville Inquiry into the events of Bloody Sunday right down to the local parish notes.
She has previously published eight women’s fiction novels. Her first thriller, Her Name Was Rose was published in 2018.
When she is not writing, she’ll more likely be found on Twitter @ClaireAllan