Liane Moriarty is probably stuck forever is the “chick lit” subgenre, and that’s a shame, because that’s not what she writes. She writes good, contemporary fiction where the main characters and POV happen to be female. And if you’re a dude and can’t handle that, I don’t know what to tell you. That said, The Hypnotist’s Love Story is no What Alice Forgot. Sure, it’s a nice way to spend a weekend. But it’s not one of her better offerings.
The story follows two tracks. First is a third person telling from the titular hypnotist — sorry, hypnotherapist — Ellen O’Farrell, who is in a new relationship with the widowed father of an eight year-old boy. There’s one very large catch: her new beau, Patrick, has a stalker, an ex-girlfriend who follows him, texts him, shows up where he takes his dates, and maybe even breaks into his house on occasion. Saskia, the stalker, is a person who both horrifies and intrigues Ellen. This off-beat, new-age-ish therapist is dying to understand what makes this woman tick. As such, she extends a tremendous amount of compassion and empathy toward her, sometimes at the expense of her new boyfriend.
The second track is told in first person from the POV of Saskia, the ex-girlfriend/stalker. It’s here where the story gets most adventurous, and also most uncomfortable. While it’s far from a flattering portrait (Saskia describes her need to see Patrick and Ellen as “a nutritional deficiency”), Moriarty still does do a nice job of humanizing the stalker. Moriarty describes how the stalking has taken over Saskia’s life, stripping away her personality and her interests, consuming her.
Case in point: a new family moves in next door, replacing her comfortably distant former neighbor. Saskia is overwhelmed by the energy of them, saying that “It’s going to be like living next door to a family of Labradors,” and she goes to great length to avoid socializing with them, not because she is incapable, but her stalking has so consumed her that she has forgotten how.
She even tries to quit stalking Patrick and Ellen several times. She not only fails, but falls further into a grasp she can’t seem to resist. She becomes a client of Ellen’s to get more information on “the hypnotist.” At one point, she breaks into Ellen’s home and bakes cookies, leaving them for Ellen as a gift. Saskia’s awareness of the inappropriateness of her actions, as well as her inability to stop them, are always forefront. So much so that, more than once, I had a hard time believing that Moriarty would have portrayed a male stalker in the same light. It isn’t until very late in the book that you get an understanding, through Ellen, of the damage the stalking has done to Patrick. That this isn’t just an annoying thing that he has to put up with.
As for the book’s larger themes, it is at heart about moving on from past relationships. And not just for Saskia. Ellen learns to put past failed romantic relationship behind her. She navigates a new relationship with her recently-in-the-picture father. And Patrick deals with issues regarding his late wife, who died of cancer at too young an age, as he learns to love again while still honoring the memory of his first wife. There is more internal monologue from Ellen than their needs to be. But then, as a hippie-dippy hypnotherapist, she is a person with a lot of internal monologue to get through.
Again, this is not Moriarty’s best effort. But it’s still a fine beach read.