New Release Book Review: When The Lights Go Out by Mary Kubica

When the Lights Go Out…

About the Book:

A woman is plunged into a bizarre case of stolen identity in this ambitious and riveting thriller by the blockbuster bestselling author of The Good Girl, Mary Kubica.

Jessie Sloane is on the path to rebuilding her life after years of caring for her ailing mother. She rents a new apartment and applies for college. But when the college informs her that her social security number has raised a red flag, Jessie discovers a shocking detail that forces her to question everything she’s ever known.

Finding herself suddenly at the centre of a bizarre mystery, Jessie tumbles down a rabbit hole, which is only exacerbated by a relentless lack of sleep. As days pass and the insomnia worsens, it plays with Jessie’s mind. Her judgment is blurred, her thoughts hampered by fatigue. Jessie begins to see things until she can no longer tell the difference between what’s real and what she’s only imagined.

Meanwhile, twenty years earlier and two hundred and fifty miles away, another woman’s split–second decision may hold the key to Jessie’s secret past. Is Jessie really who she thinks she is? Has her whole life been a lie? The truth will shock her to her core…if she lives long enough to discover it.

My Thoughts:

What a complicated review this one is going to be. The novel started as a gripping and deeply moving domestic drama, all the hallmarks of an ‘un-put-downable’ read firmly in place. Then, in the last thirty odd pages, it all ended up going pear shaped as the author inserted a twist that entirely deflated the power of the story preceding it. If I was to rate this novel on the story prior to the ending, it would be a solid 4 stars. Taking the ending into consideration, it plummets to 1 star. Given this conundrum, I’m going to review the story in two parts: the majority of the novel and why it appealed to me so much, followed by the twist and why I feel this was a major plot mistake. Be assured, when I get to discussing the ending, I’ll insert a warning to save spoilers.

Let’s begin with Jessie. When we meet her at the beginning of this novel, she’s in the hospital with her mother, Eden, who is in the last stages of her battle with cancer. Jessie is burning the candle at both ends, keeping herself awake in order to not miss any of her mother’s last moments. This pattern of self abuse spills over into her grief, and after Jessie’s mum dies, she remains awake, her physical and mental health deteriorating rapidly as we witness her spiral into the effects of having no sleep. In a bid to get on with her life, which has been on pause for years since her mother’s initial cancer diagnosis, Jessie applies to college, but there is an issue with her application. Her social security number in is invalid, it belongs to a dead child, and with no family or friends to call on, no paperwork in existence in the house to verify her identity, Jessie begins to investigate what’s going on and ends up having to face the notion that she is not who she thought she was, and nor was her mother. She begins to question everything about herself, examines her memories for nuances and clues as to who she might be and where she might have come from.

I found this storyline to be so absorbing, completely plausible, and desperately sad. As Jessie continues to not sleep, her reliability as a narrator becomes flimsy, as fatigue induced hallucinations begin to take effect and the physical symptoms start to take their toll. We are led to believe that Jessie has been kidnapped by her mother, something that angered me, as I thought of Eden stealing Jessie as a child and then knowingly withholding the truth of Jessie’s identity from her even as she was dying. Despite Jessie’s unreliability, I had so much empathy for her. Jessie’s sections were also very atmospheric, pulling you right down into her mindset:

“As I climb the lopsided steps, I feel the weight of fatigue bearing down on me. Fatigue from physical exertion and fatigue from lack of sleep. I lie down on the mattress, staring at my shaky hands before my eyes. There’s an anaemic quality to them. Blanched and mealy, the skin at their edges disappearing somehow, evanescing, like a loose thread being tugged from the hem of a shirt, the whole thing unravelling, coming apart at the seams. That’s me. Coming apart at the seams. Little by little, I’m disappearing.
I look again at my hands, and this time they are fine. Intact.
But still shaking.”

I felt a real connection to Jessie’s story, the drama of it unfolding with authenticity that was gripping and intensely discomforting. Less of a psychological thriller and more of a domestic drama, I was really hard pressed to put this novel down.

Moving onto Eden, whose backstory punctuates Jessie’s current one. This is a very sad story, all too familiar in one sense, of a couple with no success at falling pregnant and then later, even less success at maintaining a pregnancy. We witness Eden’s growing desperation, her increasingly alarming obsession with motherhood, the many ways in which she begins to isolate herself, the resentment she harbours towards her friend who has several children but is not as enthralled with motherhood as what Eden believes she should be. And then there’s the destruction upon her marriage, which was awful to witness. Eden’s mental stability begins to waver, and her actions increasingly steer towards a path that we have already set her upon, based on Jessie’s story.

“Some women were not meant to be mothers.
And some who were, some who would make the very best mothers, were refused the right.
It didn’t seem fair.
Oh, what a good mother I would be, if only the universe would let me.”

I didn’t always like Eden, but again, my well of empathy was spilling over for her. She needed help, so desperately, but instead isolated herself further. Her self awareness of just how unhinged she had become was insightful and I think it really helped me stay connected to Eden for the duration of her story, which was at its base, desperately sad. Breathtakingly so.

The novel, with both of these stories weaving in and out, is quite fast paced. I had a sense of knowing where everything was heading, with just a few of the essential details yet to be revealed. And I was quite happy with this, I felt it had been cleverly done and there were so many elements that had been put into place to ensure the plausibility of the plot and the emotional authenticity of the characters. This was very much a novel I could see translating to the big screen as a gripping movie with strong emotional pull. And then we get to the twist. I’m drawing a line now, in this review, and if you choose to read on, it’s with the full knowledge that I am next discussing the ending, and the reason why I feel it let the preceding story down in such an epic way.

To this point, When The Lights Go Out gets 🍵🍵🍵🍵 as a rating.

Now, if there is one thing I absolutely cannot stand in a story plot, it’s this:

‘And then she woke up and it was all a bad dream.’

You have got to be kidding me, but that is not a twist. I’m no expert on dreams, but I do dream quite vividly. These dreams however, are never in any chronological order. They’re more like a mash up of Alice in Wonderland and my previous day at work with a few characters from whatever book I’m reading thrown in for good measure alongside a pet performance that skirts the bizarre. I cannot credit the plausibility of a person, who is so shattered from not sleeping, having such a coherent and realistic dream. It’s just ridiculous. And by inserting this as a twist, all we’re left with is a story about a young woman whose mother is dying from cancer, who falls asleep in the hospital and has a bad dream, who then wakes up in time for her mother to die, and is then left with a journal detailing everything we just read about her mother. This where the all the power of the preceding story becomes whittled down and left to waste. Considering the experience of this author, and the many hands this novel would have passed through from conception to publication, I’m a little astonished someone never said: “So, about this dream thing…”

I can’t say I’ll be reading another novel by this author in a hurry. This is one title that I don’t recommend, unless you decide to go into it with a view at stopping about thirty pages before the ending.

🍵 if I was rating based on the ending.

🍵🍵🍵🍵🍵 if you consider how much this novel has made my mind churn!

As mentioned above, 🍵🍵🍵🍵 for the storyline up to the twist.

All in all, I’m going with a rating of 🍵🍵🍵!

Thanks is extended to HarperCollins Publishers via NetGalley for providing me with a copy of When The Lights Go Out for review.

About the Author:

Mary Kubica holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, in history and American literature. She lives outside of Chicago with her husband and two children and enjoys photography, gardening and caring for the animals at a local shelter.

When The Lights Go Out
Published by HarperCollins Publishers Australia – HQ Fiction US
Released on 20th August 2018

18 thoughts on “New Release Book Review: When The Lights Go Out by Mary Kubica

  1. Thanks Theresa, I’ve been tossing up whether to grab this from NetGalley or not, but after reading your review I think I’ll give it a miss, plenty to read already without a disappointing ending.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s the thing, isn’t Claire? No matter how good a story is, if the ending completely negates it you feel like you’ve wasted your time. I think there will be some backlash over this in review land. I had a quick skim on Goodreads after reading it and there were already a lot of arms in the air.


    • Maybe that’s it Fiona, I don’t know, but it was bizarre. And I think it’s pretty well accepted that this type of ending is a bit off. I often see surveys on social media, where readers are asked what plotlines they dislike the most, and the ‘it was all a dream’ is always right up there. Up until then, I was so invested in the story, which kind of just made it worse.


    • Maybe! Particularly if reader feedback indicates overall dissatisfaction. When running my eyes over some Goodreads reviews, that fans will be disappointed in her deviation from more of the psychological thriller zone has been popping out, combine that with the ending and yes, she might get back to form with the next book.


  2. Hahaha, I shouldn’t have read the spoiler, that would have been a cool surprise, I love the insane unexpected twists and I love endings like those. I have her first book so I’ll start with that and work my way to her recent ones. It will be a while before I get to this one but really, I wish I had time to read it now!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Well, I thought the premise sounded really compelling, and then I read the first paragraph of your review… womp womp! Isn’t that the worst? I ignored the spoiler warning because, tbh, at this point I trust your judgement and if you say the ending ruins it, I’m not going to bother picking it up 😉 You know I love unlikeable/unreliable women, so I was right there with you for the first part, it sounded great! But OH MY GOD: the bad dream trope?!?! I can’t believe an editor/publisher let her DO that!! I thought it was one of the things that’s just verboten in writing now. I am honestly outraged on your behalf. UGH!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I know right?!! To me it’s very much a no go, but I’ve since read a review on this book where the reviewer loved the twist, so maybe it’s more each to their own. But, wow, I was seriously let down and really peeved that I’d stayed up extra late to finish it! Honestly, it doesn’t work for me. This is the second ‘it was all a dream’ contemporary novels I’ve read and I feel the same about both. But I do remember being outraged as a child when watching The Wizard of Oz for the first time and getting to the point where Dorothy woke up. Dreams have never been a riveting twist for me! 😁

      Liked by 1 person

    • I’m interested that you said this! Because it was my first of hers, I had no previous expectations but to hear a fan also being disappointed makes me feel a bit better. Up until this novel, I had heard such praise about her!


  4. I have been reading or rather listening to the audiobook and I am in the depths I guess of what I now know (thank you!) is a dream. I had been getting a weird vibe that I am not going to like where this is headed. When the marriage ended, I kept thinking to myself why would she continue on with the in vitro, etc, when the issue was with her husband and slow sperm travel something or other.
    After the botched attempt to kidnap Olivia and Jessie began seeing her father just out of nowhere, I made a split second decision…. let me just see how this one ends, before I waste my time and end up totally disappointed. I am so glad I did. I never like to start a book and not know how it ends. In this case, I will stop where I am, consider the fact that the ending would have ruined everything that led up to it and tally this one as finished in my library. Thanks for the review!

    Liked by 1 person

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