Wednesday, November 24, 2010
In this intense and shocking novel, an unnamed narrator details the treacherous and frightening spiral from his life of ease and comfort into one of depravity and obsession. The narrator, a well-to-do politician and doctor with a beautiful wife and two children, has always felt that things have come to him too easily and nothing he's attained has truly been a challenge for him. He walks through life with a deep sense of ennui, content to live his life in the shadow of a deep seated discomfort and numbness, when one day his son, Martyn, brings home the latest in a series of women. But Anna, Martyn's new girlfriend, is different, and the narrator immediately takes notice of her in some disturbing ways, feeling instantly as though he has finally met one of his own kind. The relationship between this man and Anna is instantaneously deviant and sexually fearsome, and soon the narrator is being slowly driven mad with the compulsion to possess Anna in every way. This is a serious problem, for Martyn has marriage in mind, and though he allows Anna the freedom that she needs to be who she is, he doesn't realize that she is abusing his trust. As the narrator becomes more and more obsessed with this odd woman, whom his wife also feels strangely about, his life begins to crumple and distort in a series of events that will shatter not only him his family, but anyone connected to Anna as well. Deeply physiologically disturbing, this close and spare novel immediately grabs you in its teeth and shakes you, until finally you are left spent and breathless, marveling at the cruelty and deception within it.
From the moment I began this book, there was a dark and portentous feeling surrounding me as I read. I think part of this comes from the fact that Hart knows her material and is able to be lush and spare at the same time, creating a sense of confinement and dread within the narrator's confession. For that is truly what this book really is, a confession of the dark misdeeds that the narrator succumbs to in his pursuit of Anna. The narrator himself is an odd fellow. He is supremely indifferent to all aspects of his life. From his loving wife to his perfect children, he feels almost nothing and strives to understand why he feels so dead inside. When he meets Anna, he becomes alive in a frightening instant and becomes obsessed with her in a way that is truly out of character for him, and truly worrisome to the reader.
Anna is a damaged person. She says this herself and explains to the narrator how dangerous people like her can be. She exists as a sort of repository for the narrator's growing obsession and doesn't really have any defining characteristics other than her ability to egg him on to further and further acts of madness. She is cold and calculating and seems to grow in her capacity for destruction as the narrator begins to sink into her. As he diminishes, she increases, and though he believes he's in control of everything that happens between them, in reality it is she who is in control. Something I noticed about Anna was how she passively pushes people to their extremes and then lets them believe their actions are their own idea, when in reality, she is the impetus for the destruction that takes place around her. She submits, but only when it's advantageous for her to do so, and she creates a sense of well being tempered with an acute anxiety for the narrator as she slowly strips his life away.
One could argue that all this destruction comes from the narrator himself, that he is, in fact, the hinge upon which all this madness rests. In my opinion, that would be to simple an assessment, for there's something about Anna that inspires rational people to do irrational things. In her quiet acquiescence she gives power and freedom to all sorts of malevolent ideas that seem to overtake people. Though she is rational and seems benign, she quietly unlocks all the secret desires of the people around her and sends them spinning out of control. The scariest thing about this is that Anna knows who and what she is and what she can do, and though she warns the narrator, she also strangely clings to him in an effort to live out her secret desire for domination. She is powerful, but also quiet and seemingly demure, her cacophony of malignancy resting just below a placid surface.
I felt a lot of discomfort reading this book, due to the curious sense of detachment exhibited by its characters, and when this all-consuming obsession and desperation took over the story, it was almost to unbearable to read about. The mental changes the narrator goes through are rather chilling and alarming, and by the time I turned the final page, I was unsettled and disturbed in way that bothered me but also made me wonder at Hart's awesome capacity for creating her story. Though our narrator has had his life, family and livelihood ripped away by his savage obsession with Anna, he still doesn't regret what he's done and still hungers for her both physically and mentally.
I loved this book, not only for its masterful style but for Hart's ability to get under my skin like a splinter and stay there. A lot of the book is written in a very direct and quiet way, but the story is chaotic and formidable, and it left me feeling vulnerable and unsettled in some vaguely strange ways. I think those readers who are looking for something that will riddle them with complex feelings and those who enjoy books that are deft yet sparse would love this one. I know I'm looking forward to reading more from Hart because I think she has an incredible narrative gift and the ability to create characters whose coldness is wondering and impeccable.
This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.
Posted by Zibilee at 8:00 AM