A story of stalking

The Hypnotist's Love Story - Liane Moriarty

The title of this novel is deceiving. The hypnotist’s love story comprises only half of the book, and not the most memorable half, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

The protagonist, thirty-five-year-old Ellen, is a licensed hypnotherapist in Sydney, Australia. Despite the skeptics’ criticism of her chosen line of work, her business is thriving, she has a beautiful house and good friends, and she leads a spiritual, well-balanced life. To tell the truth, she is a goody-goody and boring character, and her plotline is mostly monotonous.

When she meets Patrick through an online dating site, it seems like fate to her. He is handsome, lucratively self-employed, and a widowed father to his eight-year-old son. And he likes her. The setup is almost idyllic, although occasional self-doubts mar Ellen’s perfect happiness.

Even with her insecurities, the story might’ve been much shorter, if Patrick didn’t have a spicy complication: his former girlfriend, Saskia, is stalking him. When Patrick and Ellen begin dating, Saskia’s stalking field expands to include Ellen. At this point, the story stops being boring and becomes disquieting and a bit scary.

Half of this book is Saskia’s story, going in parallel with Ellen’s. While Ellen’s part is written in the third person, detached and somewhat bland, Saskia’s story is in the first person. The author closely examines Saskia’s twisted mind and her unquenchable need to see Patrick, to know what he is doing and where he is going. She defines herself by Patrick and Ellen. Without them, she feels empty, almost non-existent. Her hollow heart is filled with anguish.

Driven by her insatiable yearning to participate in their lives, she enters Patrick’s and Ellen’s homes, when they are out, follows them to the weekend getaways and doctor appointments, watches them in movies and restaurants. And she doesn’t acknowledge to herself that this is wrong.

Saskia’s half of the book is unpleasant and frightening. All the time I was reading her story I wanted to wash her off my skin. With Saskia in the picture, the entire book, which started as an affable chick-lit flick, became a psychological study of a sick mind. I read it and I tried to understand Saskia but I couldn’t. Neither could I understand Ellen’s odd curiosity about Saskia, as if Patrick’s having a stalker made him more interesting in her eyes. Patrick’s reluctance to go to the police, to bring the law into the situation, was equally incomprehensible to me.

Despite these flaws in the characters’ logic, I had to finish the book. Saskia’s mental pain wouldn’t let me stop reading. I felt a strange, woeful sympathy towards this woman. Her psyche was ugly, yes, but she was drowning in her loneliness, and I had to know how it would end for her. Would she find redemption?

The writing is clean and professional, although rather insipid, and the action is slow. It’s a contemplative story, a story of exploration and compassion, a story which tries to answer grim and contradictory questions. When enough is enough? Where acceptance ends and irresponsible behavior starts? What could be forgiven and what couldn’t?

To say that I enjoyed the book wouldn’t be true. But it made an impression, and I’ll remember it.