Monday, 8 July 2019

Baby - Annaleese Jochems

A new name to me and I suspect to you too!  Annaleese Jochems has contributed to a genre that may not exist yet - the ‘quirky’ genre!! For this book is quirky, to put it mildly. Whilst the book was long listed for the Ngaio Marsh prize last year the crime aspects seems less dominant than the, erm, well, quirky aspects!! The author also won 2016 Adam Prize from the International Institute of Modern Letters  and the 2018 Hubert Church Best First Book Award both awards in Jochem’s native New Zealand. 

It’s a very contemporary, novel with its roots firmly in the world of social media and reality TV. It’s a curious fusion between social comment and an almost farce/ slapstick type humour which works in places but not in others. I suppose the buzzword and alternative genre descriptor might be ’millennial’? Very much the debut novel from a clearly intelligent young writer who is not afraid to tell it how she sees it. There is wit in the novel and some irony, the title, surely is ironic? But it’s a bizarre book that teeters on the brink of abnormality. 

At first I thought it was going to be a Thelma and Louise type tale, but in a boat! However our main protagonist, Cynthia, is little short of a monster!! She is hard to like and you wonder if she is just a self absorbed, spoilt brat but there is an undercurrent of disturbed individual and you also wonder whether she might be somewhere on the spectrum or a victim of parental neglect. 

Anahera, the object of Cynthia’s obsession doesn’t come across as especially likeable either and you feel that she’s using Cynthia to assuage her own unhappiness but ultimately finds she’s in much deeper than she intended. 

The male characters, are there, functional to a degree. But they fade against the two girls whose idiosyncrasies and obsessions with food and money dictate many of their actions. 

It’s a novel of contradictions in intent and execution. Some of the writing is flowing and intelligent, at other times, some of the dialogue particularly,  is almost banal. However it is compelling reading. You can’t quite believe it in places and you can’t wait to see what happens in others. It’s dark and black and downright disturbing.  The passages on the boat are claustrophobic and create a tense atmosphere. In Cynthia the writer has ably demonstrated what a chaotic mind is capable of and ordered thoughts just don’t figure! 

What it does do is force the innocent reader to think, re think and question their sanity maybe!! Reading this book is a surreal experience almost, it’s as if the book is describing a dream you’re having and not a particularly good one. But I’d put money on one thing - it’ll get people talking!!

Thanks to New Books Magazine/Nudge for a copy.

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