It's really a shame this book didn't go out with a bang, as it's first third is so promising with all kinds of dark, unpredictable possibilities and rates among the best thriller I've read in years. The mid-section was a little distracting but kept up the suspenseful curve-ball trajectory relatively intact. The last part, as twisted and outright evil as its final scene was, proved to be at once the least surprising and plausible. The downward arc no doubt hurt my rating of the book, but overall it's a compulsive read, beautifully constructed and intensely paced.
Set over the course of a dinner party and told through the dominant voice of a first-person narrator, this book is skewed in its perspective from the very start and the author makes the best use of it. Recreating events and observations from a strictly one-sided point-of-view makes the narrative inherently unreliable, add to that a protagonist that doesn't sound particularly stable to begin with, and you get a story that's straightforward on the surface, but reeks of secrets, lies, plots and all kinds of bad things very early on. Through a skillfully conceived structure, the narrative weaves in and out of present and past, revealing gradually the ugly family history that led to the dinner and the magnitude of what's at stake here. The build-up is impeccable. What I also appreciated while reading this book is how richly cinematic it works. Reminiscent of Asghar Farhadi's films about the mystery of human relationships and at times the quietly malevolent tone of Michael Haneke's work, it's easy to picture the novel as a somber, disturbing chamber piece on the big screen.
So really it's too bad that at some key turns of events in the story, the surprises turn out to be not too surprising and the reactions of the characters a bit affected. Also some of the themes in the book about race, worth of human life, hereditary disorders touch dangerously close upon far-right ideologies I'm just not comfortable with.