Not so thrilling

Rob Kidd struggles with a thriller that makes for a tough read at times.

BABY
Annaleese Jochems
Victoria University Press

By ROB KIDD

What do you call a psychological thriller without the psychology or the thrills?

I think it's art.

Annaleese Jochems' first novel is the culmination of her masters writing studies at Victoria University and it is throbbing-ly modern.

The 23-year-old author's main character and entirely self-interested narrator is the similarly youthful Cynthia.

I suspect that's where the commonalities end.

Cynthia is a platinum-blonde, image-obsessed, reality-TV-watching, vacuous mess and she is utterly bewitched by her fitness instructor Anahera.

When the woman leaves her husband and knocks on Cynthia's door, she is immediately prepared to leave behind her life of privilege and hit the road.

Using cash Cynthia swindles from her dad, they buy a boat - Baby - and then the demented, isolation-driven madness begins. Well, not straight away.

The boat becomes their tiny world as Cynthia's infatuation for Anahera grows and every movement the older woman makes becomes saturated with meaning.

Life off the coast of Paihia is generally uneventful. It drags.

Anahera swims while Cynthia fantasises about their mostly non-existent relationship. But Cynthia can't quite adapt to her new nautical existence.

 

The narrative is interwoven with references to reality TV shows she watches on her cell phone in the cabin of the boat - glimpses of her reluctant yearning for her formerly comfortable life.

Like the programmes she watches, her perception is a demented confusion of what is real and what is not.

Cynthia is so superficial that our understanding of what is going is unrecognisably warped.

I guess that's the point, but it can make it a tough read at times.

Life-changing events are described with the same urgency as making lunch. You find yourself re-reading sections to make sure what you thought happened, actually happened.

 

A meandering first two-thirds of the novel makes way for increased tension and drama towards the end.

There are some beautiful passages, particularly when Cynthia becomes metaphorically and almost literally drowned in her own self-absorption.

But ultimately it all feels a little empty; like the narrator's brain.

I suppose that's the point.

- Rob Kidd is an ODT court reporter

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