When Sarah Pinborough’s thriller Behind Her Eyes was published in 2017, even she described it as a “Marmite book”. Her publisher slapped on equally dire warnings, hyping it with the hashtag #WTFthatending.
Now the novel is a hit Netflix miniseries and Pinborough is still boggled by her own twist. “I finished watching it and then I had a shower and went to bed and I was still thinking, ‘That ending, man!’ – and I made it up!” she says, speaking from her home near Milton Keynes. “But it’s different seeing it.”
Behind Her Eyes is the story of Louise, played by Simona Brown, a single mother who has a one-night stand with a man in a bar, only to discover that he is her new boss, David, played by Tom Bateman. Louise’s new friend Adele (Eve Hewson) also happens to be David’s wife. As Louise gets to know the couple, she sees the cracks in their marriage widen. So far, so run of the domestic noir mill. But Pinborough made her name in horror and science fiction before she turned to thrillers – so when the big reveal comes, Behind Her Eyes is genuinely #WTFthatending.
“I’d been reading a lot of books like Gone Girl, domestic noir and psychological thrillers, and I was really enjoying them. I thought I’d quite fancy writing something like that,” she says. “But I couldn’t come up with anything original.” At that point, Pinborough had written a couple of dozen novels – a mix of horror, science fiction and fantasy – and won a handful of awards, but none had become bestsellers. She remembers sitting in a bar during the sci-fi convention Worldcon, “watching people, and seeing writers who had just got big deals. It’s really dangerous to be envious of other people’s success, but I started to worry that maybe my shelf life was running out,” she says. “I’d written, like, 20 books and never broken through.”
She went for a beer with an editor at HarperCollins, who told her she wasn’t being published right, and asked her to pitch a book. “She said, ‘Don’t worry, it doesn’t have to be brilliant.’ Which obviously means it has to be brilliant,’” Pinborough says. “I was like, oh my god. A friend had died that week, and I was looking after someone’s dog, who I had to have put down. My brain was fried.”
She tried infusing her story with “flavour” – then, suddenly, she had the twist. “I wanted it to hit all the beats of a regular thriller. The clues had to be there,” she says. “At first I thought it was going to be really easy to write, but it was quite hard. Everything had to have dual meaning, so that no one could say this character lied. I would have hated that.”
Behind Her Eyes has now sold almost 1m copies around the world, and the Netflix adaptation is set to propel sales further still. Amazon reviews give an insight into its Marmite quality, ranging from five stars and “a wicked ending”, to “a good story ruined by a preposterous ending”. Read from source….