No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

2013/14: Naomi's Room -- Jonathan Aycliffe

...everywhere the problem is the same problem: how do we keep them dead, how do we prevent the categories of life and death from becoming confused? The dead do not refuse to die, they are willing accomplices in their own disposal. But they will not rest unless the living rest as well. [loc 526]

Purchased on whim, this is a horror story set in Cambridge and London in the 1970s. Charles and Laura are academically successful, happily married, and have a beautiful five-year old daughter named Naomi. One Christmas Eve Charles takes Naomi to London, to Hamley's. The little girl is abducted: days later, her body is found in Spitalfields.

The couple struggle with their grief and shock. They clutch at straws; an odd aspect of the murder, a newspaper photographer who's noticed something unexpected in some of his pictures, a face in the background of an old holiday snapshot. There are hints of a family secret, signs that their house holds hidden spaces. And steadily the sense of menace rises, chilling and melancholy and terrifying.

If the final third of the novel had been in the same key as the preceding chapters, I might have slept with the lights on for weeks. However, events pivot around a single moment, and after that moment nothing can ever be the same. I found myself re-examining the narrator's account to date, seeking foreshadowings and connections. (To Aycliffe's credit, these are present, and admirably subtle: though there are a few aspects of the story which don't seem to fit together, such as the narrator's relationship to the doctor.)

I can't say I liked the last third of Naomi's Room; it took the story from the psychological to the gory, and I prefer the former. But it's an effective shift, all the more so because of the continuity of narrative voice.

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