Following an accident five years ago, Monica has lived in chronic neuropathic pain. She has some days that are better than others, but none that could truly be called good days – her pain always prevents her from being the person she once was, and the person she wants to be. Her partner, Dominic, has always been extremely supportive, however, and tries to help her as much as he can.
When Monica finds a suicide note tucked away in drawer, she is shocked. The note is written in her own handwriting and is signed in her own name, but she has no recollection of writing it, nor of having been in such a dark place that she would consider ending her life. But if she didn’t write it, who did?
The novel is told largely from Monica’s perspective, although there are chapters that are told from the view of someone connected to her and her story – her husband Dominic, for example. This structure and the changing perspectives works really well for Painkiller, particularly as it’s difficult to know how reliable Monica is as a narrator. The cocktail of drugs that she takes to help her manage the pain do have some side effects, including memory loss, and the reader can’t help but question Monica’s narrative when other perspectives are made available.
I thought that Monica’s experience of living with chronic neuropathic pain was both realistic and sensitively handled. Her days start by assessing how she feels and what she might be capable of, depending upon her “Angry Friend”, as she has dubbed the pain. The reactions and the judgement of some of the people around her rang very true, particularly in the way that some people just don’t understand that even though there is nothing visibly wrong with Monica, the pain means that she just can’t do as much as she would like, or as much as others expect.
I found Painkiller to be a little slow to start, although the pace did soon pick up as I began to realise that there was something not quite right about Monica’s situation, and I would say that this is a novel that demands to be read in as few sittings as possible. Although you may not have much choice – once I got into the novel, I found it hard to put down as the short chapters meant that I wanted to keep reading in order to find out what happened next.
I do have a slight issue with the novel, however, and that lies with how Monica eventually puts all the parts of the puzzle together. I thought that it was just a little too convenient, and I found the ending to be a little rushed and not entirely satisfying. That’s just my personal view, however – it wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t to my taste. Overall, I enjoyed the novel, and I would be interested in seeing what Fountain produces next.
Painkiller was published by Sphere in December 2016. Many thanks to Ella Bowman for providing a copy for review.