Gwen Moffat lives in Cumbria. Her novels are set in remote communities ranging from the Hebrides to the American West. The crimes fit their environment, swelling that dreadful record of sin in the smiling countryside cited by Sherlock Holmes. The style echoes this: rustic charm masking horror.
The title suggests suicide but you are soon made aware that a different kind of disengagement could be involved. This is a novel that demands concentration, definitely not one for the beach. Most of the time you don’t know where you are, or even who you are as you are lured into a state of excruciating empathy. Little help comes from a couple of scandalized observers who, like a demented Greek chorus opted to explain or elaborate the action, succeed only in mystifying it further. Or is one being obtuse? One reads on, shackled to the page.
The protagonist: young, female, intelligent, goes to extreme lengths to explain herself and to try to understand the man who is driving her to visit his parents. She is suffering from a compulsion to know the other intimately, to get inside his mind, yet at the same time retaining her own secret: a voice on the other end of the phone whom she refers to as The Caller. She is hoping that the man’s parents may help her understand her dilemma, the nature of which remains so obscure that its identification is a problem in itself. The quasi-Greek chorus interrupt ominously referring to blood and a body in a closet – but who is the victim? Who is the perpetrator?
They reach the man’s home: a rundown farm with neglected and suffering beasts and maggoty carcasses. The girl’s initial shock is dissipated in the face of the man behaviour: dismissive, even callous as he wanders about the decrepit buildings in a trance. The parents appear late: the father ordinary, the mother smiling continually. Nothing happens although you are waiting for it agonisingly. The supper is good but rich and the girl can’t eat dairy products. How does that fit? It doesn’t. Nothing does – and everything.
They head back to the city, encounter a blizzard and end in a huge empty school on the empty prairie. The man disappears and the haunted girl is stalked through interminable corridors by nightmare figures: the crazy janitor with his mop and bucket, his rubber boots and gloves, by The Caller on her mobile, by her own man. With violence we return to the real world and the realisation that the compulsion to know a person’s soul, although sincere, is a road trip that may destroy the searcher.
Resolution comes from the Greek chorus (alias the author?) who finally come up with something useful. Go back to the beginning of the book, they suggest, and start again: “First though, I think you better sit down.”
A disturbing work and, as the author’s debut novel, quite astounding, and only too memorable.