BOOK REVIEW – Who Are You? by Elizabeth Forbes

Who are you

I received a copy of this book through THE Book Club in return for my honest review.

Wow! This is a dense and intense read that is both gripping and uncomfortable. It investigates the unnerving topics of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and domestic  violence.

Alex and Juliet are living a seemingly idyllic life with their adorable son Ben, in an affluent London community. After many years of being posted away from home as part of an elite regiment of the British Army, including a tour in Afghanistan, Alex has agreed to settle down to suburban life. Juliet is thrilled – no more moving every couple of years, no more instability and finally a home of their own.

But the Alex who has returned to her is not the same as the man who left. He is severely damaged, and is battling the constraints of ‘normal’ life. He’s a dangerous man: physically violent, emotionally manipulative and always one step ahead of whoever he considers to be ‘the enemy’ – unfortunately his biggest perceived threat is Juliet, his wife.

I found Alex as a character is unlikeable. I tried to feel sorry for him, as he seems to be a product of many things over which he has little control, but in the end I just couldn’t like him. We learn that Alex’s PTSD is not purely from his experiences in battle, but goes much further back to what he endured as a child. Juliet too has a bit of a rocky history but has learned how she has worked hard at leaving it behind her to become the adult she is today.

The story construction is brilliant, giving us the perspective from both Alex’s and Juliet’s points of view, yet still leaving us wondering where the truth really lies. It’s a valuable lesson in caution on the use of online chatrooms (where Juliet finds herself spending more and more time as she finds support and advice there,) and how we represent ourselves to others when we have anonymity to protect what we’d prefer others not to know.

Forbes’ highly detailed descriptions of PTSD and its symptoms and reactions are an outstanding testimony to her obviously penetrating research into the topic. What made the book even more compelling for me were her notes at the end, where she talks about her son and how she experiences dealing with him being in the Army, including her pride in him and the work he does.

I highly recommend this book, definitely not as light reading, but as a powerful look into the workings of a disturbed mind (the characters’, NOT the writer’s)and how external influences may impact a person and all who are close to them.

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