The Night Olivia Fell
The Night Olivia Fell is a twisty, fast-paced thriller that asks how well we really know those closest to us. The blurb compares it to Kimberly McCreight’s Reconstructing Amelia, a book I read and loved back in 2013. For the most part, I agree with the comparison, but The Night Olivia Fell contains a few flaws not present in the other book.
Abby and Olivia are as close as any mother and daughter can hope to be. Abby’s a single mom who has done everything in her power to give seventeen-year-old Olivia a stable and happy life, and she’s pretty sure she’s succeeded. Olivia is intelligent, well-mannered, and ambitious, the kind of girl who doesn’t break the rules and rarely gives her mother reason to worry. But then, Abby is awakened one night by a call from the local police, a call that alerts her to the fact that Olivia has been keeping some devastating secrets, secrets that have apparently caused her to throw herself off a bridge. Now, Olivia is brain-dead and pregnant, and Abby is left with all manner of questions.
At first, Abby can’t get past her grief. For seventeen years, it’s been just the two of them against the world, and she can’t begin to imagine what her life will be like without Olivia in it. Fortunately, Abby is a pretty practical person and it’s not long before she begins searching for the truth behind what happened to Olivia. Who is the father of Olivia’s unborn child, and is he somehow linked to Olivia’s death?
Abby expects the police to be actively looking for answers, but the detectives in charge of the investigation are convinced Olivia committed suicide. Abby admits this is possible, but something about it doesn’t feel right to her, and she begs the detectives to dig a little deeper. When they still seem reluctant, Abby decides to take matters into her own hands, and she begins doing everything she can to reconstruct the last several months of her beloved daughter’s life.
The story alternates between Abby’s perspective in the present and Olivia’s in the past. I was pleased Ms. McDonald chose to tell the story in this way as it allowed me to get to know Olivia as the person she actually was rather than the one her mother wanted her to be. I would have found it difficult to connect with Olivia’s character if I had only seen her through Abby’s eyes, and I’m not sure the story would have been nearly as compelling had it been told another way.
I found both Abby and Olivia to be authentic and relatable. They’re both keeping some pretty big secrets from one another, and there were times I wished they’d call a halt to all the drama and just have an honest conversation. Of course, that’s not how things go in these types of books since honest discussions aren’t nearly as interesting as deceptions and lies!
I loved almost everything about this book, and in fact, I would have given it a higher grade if not for rather large problem having to do with the villain. I don’t like it when authors create two-dimensional characters, and this is especially true for antagonists. I want them to have interesting, dynamic reasons for the bad things they do, but Ms. McDonald doesn’t manage to pull that off. The villain in this story comes across as kind of cartoonish, and I struggled to take him seriously. Unfortunately, this affected my ability to fully buy into the novel’s conclusion. I was super invested in the story up until about the eighty percent mark, but when the villain’s true motives were revealed, things fell a little flat.
Having said that, there is still a lot to like about The Night Olivia Fell, especially if you aren’t as picky about your villains as I am. Ms. McDonald definitely knows how to spin an engrossing tale, and I’d certainly be willing to give another one of her books a try in the future.