Last night we braved buckets of rain and long traffic hold-ups to cross county lines and get to the Howick launch of writer Anne Ousby’s new novel Your Friend E.
The charming Howick Village Hall was crowded with Anne’s friends and fans and furnished with wine, an exquisite buffet and specially made chocolate truffles. (Truffles play a somewhat menacing role in the novel – read the novel to discover why.)
And so the scene was set for an excellent book launch,
|Buy Anne's Book|
Anne, whose plays have been performed across the North and whose short stories have been broadcast on the BBC, has now turned her hand to writing novels to some effect, having published four novels since 2010. She has moved from the stern beauty of her Northumberland home to the dusty heat of contemporary
to set three of the novels - most recently Your
Friend E. South Africa
Her daughter Catherine, who was at the launch last night, (very proud of her mum) has lived with her own family in South Africa for eighteen years and Anne, who visits her daughter frequently, has become fascinated with that country,
Your Friend E, like Anne’s other novels, demonstrates her detailed interest in this ever-changing country: she is clearly inspired by her experiences there and brings an outsider’s eye to that complex environment. As I said to Catherine at the launch, being the stranger in a community is a good position for a writer. She takes nothing for granted and notices what may be overlooked by an insider’s eye.
Evie, the central character and the narrator of this psychological novel, is doubly obsessed. She is experiencing the trial and sentencing of one murderer and struggling with the dark memory of another. She is walking into a complete breakdown before our eyes, her life and identity crumbling beneath her. Her own crucial family narrative, past and present, entwines itself around her present perspectives on the two acts of murder. Her reliability as a narrator fluctuates in the reader’s mind compelling us to drive on right to the end of the novel.
And always – as in Anne’s novel, Patterson’s Curse - the South African landscape with its exotic flora and fauna plays a fundamental role in Your Friend E. This underpins and authenticates the universal realities of the contemporary world, where fundamentals like prejudice, sibling rivalry and domestic violence are a commonplace.
There was some discussion at the launch as to whether it is possible or desirable to have an unsympathetic main character. The implication was that Evie with her obsession and vengeful determination is an unsympathetic character.
Well, I didn’t find Evie the least bit unsympathetic. I empathised with her in her stressful family situation and I sympathised with her desire for resolution, even revenge. The writing helps this by skilfully holding the balance between the past and the present. And the clarity and non-judgemental style here allows us as readers to tolerate the destructiveness of Evie's despairing emotions as she pursues her vengeful quest. It encourages us to root for Evie’s survival and hope for her return to some kind of normality. For me Evie is not at all an unsympathetic character.
And Anne Ousby treats us to a perfect surprise at the end - an end which is another universal beginning,
This is a short novel – sometimes now called a novella – very popular these days. However it is perfectly structured to tell this whole story and has the weight and significance of a much longer novel. It strikes me also that it would make a very good film. Any film makers out there?