REVIEW: Tony & Susan by Austin Wright

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Read this book for: literary thriller, longer read, books about books, story within a story, interesting concept, gripping thriller

Quick Review: A concept that book lovers will appreciate, wrapped around an utterly mesmerising thriller.


Twenty-five years after their divorce, Susan Morrow receives a manuscript from her ex-husband who had never succeeded as a writer. The novel tells the story of a terrible crime: a horrific tale of a highway ambush and a secluded cabin in the woods. It’s a harrowing tale and Susan wonders how it could have been created by the man she once loved – and why he has sent it to her now…

TONY & SUSAN is a fantastic literary thriller first published in 1993 and about to be released on the big screen as Nocturnal Animals (the name of the manuscript in the novel) by American author Austin Wright. It tells two stories in one – the complete story of “Nocturnal Animals” contained in the manuscript, and the story and experience of the woman who reads it, the ex-wife of the author, Susan Morrow.

The novel overall is plotted around Susan’s reading of the manuscript, from its unexpected arrival to Susan’s reactions to it. She takes breaks between sections and chapters for reflection that break the flow of the narrative, which actually serves to heighten the tension – as a reader, you want to get back to what’s going on in the manuscript, because it is such a suspenseful thriller.

And the manuscript’s story would be an amazing thriller just on its own – an almost unbearably tense examination of personality as exposed through a terrible ordeal. If nothing else, read this novel for this plot-within-the-plot, because it is one of the most suspenseful pieces of writing I have read in some time.

With this novel, however, you have the added bonus of the context of the reader – Susan – and the mysteries of her life. She’s somewhat unreliable as a narrator, so questions that she seemingly answers are still left with shadows of doubt. What happened in her previous marriage? Who really was her ex-husband? What prompted him to write this novel? Why did he send it to her – what is he trying to tell her? These questions haunt your reading (even as they haunt Susan’s reading), and add an extra layer of tension as you try to find out the answers.

Somewhat interestingly, Susan never really gets a concrete answer, although as an outside observer you can draw some conclusions. However, Wright leaves the ending deliberately ambiguous, making a comment about the divergence of authorial intent and reader interpretation. This is what elevates this novel to the level of ‘literary’ thriller.

Several elements on their own would make me want to recommend this novel: the incredible story in the manuscript, the way you can empathize with Susan and the reading process as a book lover, and the search for meaning and the author’s intention in a novel. Altogether, though, they put TONY & SUSAN fairly high on any must-read list!

[I’m also really looking forward to seeing how they manage to adapt this concept for film! – Leanna @]

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