The Only Child by Andrew Pyper

The only child was a good read.  I enjoyed it but to an extent I can’t help but wonder how much of my enjoyment relied on my own personal reading of the classics that this is based on.  In fact it’s a book that definitely had me thinking in two minds about it.  My initial reactions were less favourable, I didn’t like the two characters involved and this always makes it more of a struggle for me to connect.  But, with the extra time I’ve given myself for reflection, and I certainly did find myself thinking about this one quite a bit, I’ve hit upon a few revelations that could be right or wrong but that put the story in a slightly different light for me.

So, Frankenstein, Dracula and Dr Jekyll and Hyde.  Three books that I enjoyed, particularly the first two.  Basically, imagine that the monster of The Only Child has proved the inspiration for all three books – each of the authors being inspired by his entry into their lives and the threat he posed.  All three books fail to describe his character fully, they’re all flawed and yet also fundamentally contain elements of the true nature of this real monster that lives in our world.  Superhuman strength coupled with a certain sadness, ruthlessly violent and craving of blood coupled with abilities to influence somebody’s thoughts, a split personality that fluctuates between reasonable, polite even, and incredibly angry and unpredictably dangerous.

At the start of the story we meet Dr. Lily Dominick as she examines the latest violent patient to be committed to The Kirby, a psychiatric institution – that would probably have been known years earlier as an asylum.  Lily is used to violent paiients and their threats, treating them with a calm detachment, but she is immediately disturbed by this latest inmate and the underlying current of power that he exudes.  As the interview progresses the patient makes impossible claims relating to not only his date of birth that would place him at around 200 years old but also the fact that he is Lily’s father.  From there onwards we have a sort of cat and mouse chase where the cat leaves a trail of breadcrumbs across Europe for the mouse to follow and come to it’s own conclusion in the process.

I must say that the story hooked me fairly quickly, the only reservation being that I found Lily intriguing but difficult to like.  I was certainly interested by the latest inmate and wanted to learn more about him.  Within fairly short order things move on and there are certainly no complaints about the pacing of the book.  Lily finds herself travelling in the footsteps of her would-be-father, quite often placing herself into dangerous situations, life threatening even and discovering not only something of her own hereditary but coming to an understanding herself of why she’s always felt so different.

Basically, as a young child Lily’s mother was violently murdered.  She was about six at the time and she and her mother were staying in a remote cabin in the hills.  The recollections have receded over the years but of late it seems that Lily is starting to suffer bad dreams and hallucinations herself.  As I said I found Lily a little difficult to connect with but, and without trying to give away too much, I think this is intentional on the part of the author.  There was also some odd sexual innuendo between Lily and Michael which I found a little bit off putting given his claims and the fact that she accepted some of the things he said.

For me, this wasn’t just a mystery/thriller in which we uncovered details about the monster but was also a voyage of discovery for Lily, almost a coming of age if you will.  So, yes, I didn’t like her, but I’m also not entirely surprised by the revelation.  She’s very cold and detached and perhaps that’s what has led her to be so successful.   However, she’s always had niggles at the back of her mind about her own inability to fit in and that, for me, is why she pursues this mystery so determinedly, even if some of her choices make her seem a little like a pawn on somebody else’s chessboard.

The Monster, or Michael.  I was absolutely fascinated by his story, I can’t deny it – in fact it was my favourite aspect of the book and I was impatient to get back to it every time I was pulled away.  In fairness I could have easily and maybe even preferably read a more linear version in which Michael related his story from the beginning bringing us to the up to date story in the present day.  As it was we learnt snippets of his history as Lily ducked and dived around the place gathering information.

In terms of criticisms.  I think I had two issues with the story.  Firstly, I didn’t find it particularly scary – but, again, going back to the classics I’m not sure that they would either be considered so in this day and age.   For me, it felt like the author was paying homage to the three books and I think he did a good job in that respect not to mention bringing a different angle to all three.  I think my main issue was plausibility.  I couldn’t put my finger on why Michael chose to reveal  himself to Lily now.  It just felt a bit much to believe somehow.  And added to this is the way in which he makes the revelation – having himself committed and then staging various other crimes to ensure she followed him.  I didn’t really buy into that aspect of the story and in fact I think I almost put it to the back of my mind and was instead gripped by the mystery.  But, I couldn’t help coming back to it.  Yes, of course, I realise that Michael felt the need to allow Lily to come to her own realisations but at the same time I just don’t understand the way he went about it – particularly given that he’s already on the radar of an organisation who are seeking him relentlessly – why leave more clues for them to follow.  Why not just take Lily and talk to her?  Sow the seeds of doubt that will set her mind racing??  In fact, personally, I would have preferred the removal of this ‘third’ party altogether and think the story should simply have focused on Lily and Michael.

Overall I enjoyed this.  It was a quick read.  I struggled to like the characters but I think that’s to be expected to be honest.  I didn’t find it as scary as I would have liked and maybe would have liked an injection of more ‘gothic’.  But, all that being said this was a quick read and a little reflection has helped me to see certain aspects from a different angle as I think my immediate impression was a little more severe due to my dislike of the main characters. – some extra space to think about it has made me see this from a slightly different angle and with a new appreciation.  And I confess that reading this has made me want to go back and read those classics – which is a definite win in my opinion.

I received a copy through Netgalley, courtesy of the publisher, for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.

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12 Responses to “The Only Child by Andrew Pyper”

  1. Mogsy @ BiblioSanctum

    Thanks for the detailed review, Lynn! I was nervous because of some of the mixed reviews I’ve seen for this, but now that I have a better idea of what to expect, I’m thinking it might just work and I’m feeling a lot more optimistic! Admittedly I’m not too well versed in those classics, but now that I know the context I’m more prepared 🙂

    • @lynnsbooks

      I can understand the mixed reviews to be honest – this isn’t particularly scary or horrifying, and there are definitely elements that I think could have been left out – like the agency that is seeking the monster and the potential love interest from that angle – I think it was unnecessary. But, having given it some thought and having time to mull things over I feel like Pyper has made good use of the classics with this story and I like that – the monster’s nature is a great mix and even Lily is a little more understandable when you take that into consideration.
      Lynn 😀

  2. Tammy

    I had intended to read this in May but the month got away from me. I hope to catch up, however! I’m very curious about this. Like Mogsy, I’ve seen some mixed reviews, but I absolutely loved the last book I read by Pyper so I’m optimistic!

    • @lynnsbooks

      It’s very different from the only other book I’ve read of his which I found really quite horror filled. This is more a thriller I would say rather than horror. I’ve also seen the mixed reviews and I can understand them tbh – but I liked the writing, I liked the play on the classics and the way the monster tells his story – it’s an odd book though and not one that I could confidently say ‘you must read this you’ll love it’. I think it reminded me also a little of the Historian in some ways.
      Lynn 😀

  3. alwaystrustinbooks

    I have just received a copy of this for review in the post. I appreciate mixed reviews as they stop me from getting my expectations too high. Great review!

  4. maddalena@spaceandsorcery

    Thought-provoking review, thanks for sharing!
    This title did intrigue me when you first mentioned it a short while ago, and despite your misgivings (some of which I can understand, like the absence of a strong connection with the main character) I would give this a try: it’s not every day that we have the opportunity of exploring three seminal myths of the horror genre with one book… 🙂

    • @lynnsbooks

      I did enjoy it – yes, I had reservations here and there but overall it was a good read and I couldn’t resist revisiting these old stories.
      Lynn 😀

  5. jessicabookworm

    This books is trying to follow in some very big footsteps! I like the idea of it but I think you lost me at unlikeable characters.

    • @lynnsbooks

      Yeah, it is one of those books where you have a bit of a struggle to connect but I think on reflection that that is the author’s intention. Of course I could be completely wrong, putting my own spin on it and talking broken biscuits! Who knows.
      Lynn 😀

  6. May: My Month in Review | Books and travelling with Lynn

    […] The Only Child by Andrew Pyper […]

  7. ‘No, I am your father..’ | Books and travelling with Lynn

    […] Monstrous: Michael – Andrew Pyper’s The Only Child […]

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