So imagine that you’ve met the perfect guy. He’s considerate, he’s charming, he has a kid, he’s generally the whole package. There’s just one problem: he has a stalker, but you don’t actually mind that he has a stalker, because it makes your life more interesting.
That’s the kind of thinking that frames Liane Moriarty’s The Hypnotist’s Love Story. Ellen O’Farrell is a hypnotherapist with a thriving practice that she runs out of her home, and she’s just met a great man on the internet. The only thing that might stand in the way of their happily ever after, is the fact that his ex-girlfriend has been stalking him for the last four years.
None of this bother’s Ellen, in fact it intrigues her. She’s dating someone that’s worth stalking, and Ellen might even be interested in meeting her, but the thing is, Ellen already has.
When I got to the end of The Hypnotist’s Love Story, I had a hard problem trying to wrap my thoughts around the novel as a whole. The novel is told from the perspective of Ellen, Patrick’s new girlfriend, and Saskia, his jilted ex-lover, and it sounds like there will be this big collision of forces, but it never really gets there!
Within each chapter there are tone shifts that I felt would be very hard to place on paper. It’s not just a shifting of perspectives, but a change from third person to first person narration with Ellen’s parts being told in third person and Saskia’s in first. I found this to be a bit of an odd choice, and because of it, I went through most of the audiobook trying to figure out who I was supposed to identify with. Am I supposed to root for Ellen or be sympathetic towards Saskia?
This is where Tamara Lovett Smith’s narration is very helpful. She’s able to convey both of the women’s voices so they are distinct and clear, and her inflection in each scene fits both Ellen and Saskia very well.
What I also liked about the audiobook, was that the little excerpts that came at the start of each chapter injected a touch of humor before each page began. It was a great bit of levity and I think it was a very creative addition when you consider some of the source material used: diary entries from fourteen-year-old Ellen, a printed flier for a hypno-party, and selections from speeches given by both Saskia and Ellen at various unrelated conferences.
As for the plot itself, I found the main stalking plot to be interesting. I thought that Moriarty’s characters were dynamic enough to keep me interested, and I was deeply invested in the lives of Ellen and Saskia from the beginning.
I didn’t end up a hundred percent sold with Patrick and Ellen as a couple at times, and I think that was mostly because when it came to Saskia he played the victim and shut everything about his life with her away. He never really discusses his culpability in how their relationship ended, just blames her for the fact that she can’t move on.
I also thought that there seemed to be a lot of filler in terms of Ellen’s life. It makes sense that we would meet some of her friends, but we also have her godmothers, her mom, as well as Patrick’s family. Not to mention the ghost of Patrick’s dead wife Colleen.
Then you have her hypnotherapy clients. Ellen has a thriving hypnotherapy practice, and she sees clients from all different backgrounds. While the cases were interesting, we meet at least six clients, and it isn’t until the very last few chapters of the book, that their significance makes sense.
The clients also pop up erratically throughout the book and it’s a lot of threads to keep track of. While I love my characters to be complete people with a personality, a job, and interests outside of the main romance, Ellen has a recurring problem where she can’t seem to remember what any of her patients look or sound like.
It feels like every time a patient shows up at her door or calls her on the phone she has to put the pieces together to figure out who she’s speaking with. I can forgive it happening once or twice, but it seems to happen every time one of her patients speaks with her. There’s only one case where she’s able to put all the pieces together and recognize one of her clients without an interior monologue.
Ellen’s full life stands in stark contrast to Saskia’s, who spends a lot of her time with internal dialogue about her memories of life with Patrick and his son Jack. Looking back it seems like this is supposed to illustrate just how lonely Saskia was, but the way the two sit in their own separate vacuums, don’t do much to entwine the narratives.
I really enjoyed Saskia’s sections, and getting into the mind of a stalker, but–and this goes back to Patrick–I wish we had gotten more of his side of the story throughout the book. Patrick vilifies Saskia at every chance he gets, and while Saskia does cross the line, I kept wishing he would unpack the emotions behind his feelings. I think that would have added a stronger dynamic to Saskia and Patrick’s interactions.
This lack of depth caused the ending to fall short for me. While I enjoyed the characters and the perspective, I somehow wanted more. It just didn’t feel like the complications raised the stakes of the story for me.
FINAL RATING: 3 Stars
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