Someone Like Me

Book cover: Someone Like Me - M R CareyLiz left her abusive husband, but she hasn’t been able to cut him out of her life. When an argument turns violent, something – or someone – awakens within her and helps her fight back. Liz’s life may never be the same again…

M R Carey is really hit and miss for me. I adore The Hungry Plague duology; I was left completely cold by Fellside. Someone Like Me is his latest supernatural thriller and one of our Subjective Chaos Kind of Awards fantasy nominees, so I approached it cautiously but with high hopes.

After years of emotional and physical abuse, Liz Kendall managed to leave her husband Marc. Now, she has a fragile peace – working at the cinema, volunteering at the food kitchen, raising her two kids – intermittently disrupted by Marc’s visiting rights. Things come to a head when he brings them home late one weekend – and tries to strangle her to death. Liz has always curled up, letting his rage run its course, taking the blows to protect her children. But not tonight. Tonight, Marc has no intention of stopping – and Liz fights back.

It could be a fluke, until she feels that cold clarity and violent rage rising up in her again. Something – or someone – is living in Liz’s head. Someone utterly unafraid. Someone who has a short fuse and a violent temperament. Someone who doesn’t care what damage she does. Someone utterly unlike Liz… or is she? If Liz doesn’t put up a fight this time, she will lose herself completely.

Her son’s schoolmate Fran Watts had her own terrifying experience as a young girl: kidnapped by a man who believed she was some sort of monster, held prisoner while he worked up the will to kill her. Fran was rescued, but she has never been the same: her anxieties dominate her life, and her reality has become oddly fluid. She sees double when she sees Liz, but she’s long since learned not to trust her perceptions.

The story plays out through multiple points of view, taking its time to develop tension and set up twists. Given where the journey leads, it’s good that it’s so thoroughly grounded – but in spite of the focus on character, I found them difficult to engage with. I wasn’t particularly drawn to Liz. I warmed to Fran – and to Zac Kendall (Liz’s son), but even so, I felt little more than mild curiosity about how events would unfold. I had only one burning question I wanted answered, and that wasn’t quite enough to invest in.

I also found it all a bit… shallow? Slick? By the numbers? I don’t want to do it a disservice – I think it is far better than Fellside – but I didn’t find Someone Like Me particularly satisfying. For all its twists and turns, it hit very predictable beats. On top of that, there were aspects of the narrative that left me uncomfortable, so I never quite relaxed into the storytelling. I’m going to tiptoe around spoilers here, so bear with me if it all gets very ambiguous!

Someone Like Me is at its strongest in its central relationships. The parent/child dynamics between Liz/Zac and Fran/Gil are wonderful – supportive, loving, nuanced. I also liked the budding friendship between Zac and Fran, and how she (rightly) holds him accountable for his behaviour. I loved the fiercely protective Lady Jinx, Fran’s imaginary friend – and that her constant support didn’t exempt Fran from her disapproval and reprimands.

But its suburban Pittsburgh setting felt rather two-dimensional; the scene-setting – other than the tremendously atmospheric motel – perfunctory at best. While I appreciated the villain’s inner conflict (adding some much-needed nuance and even evoking some empathy from me), it also deployed a lazy checklist of traits to underline their bad guy status. And I never quite got comfortable with PTSD and Dissociative Identity Disorder as plot devices.

That said, I don’t think it counts as a spoiler – given this is an M R Carey novel- to say this isn’t really a story about mental health. I fully expected a story about ghosts and possession (and oh look, it is); the question is whether Liz and Fran can confront the emerging horror given what they are already living through. The tension doesn’t come from whether anyone will believe them – of course they won’t; they don’t believe it themselves – but whether they can survive this new trauma.

So perhaps I’m being overly critical (and I haven’t seen any own voices reviews; I’d like to). Carey writes blockbusters: easily digestible, peopled by recognisable archetypes and served with a side of supernatural horror. If that’s what you’re looking for, Someone Like Me will likely tick all the boxes.