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‘The Night Following’ by Morag Joss

December 21, 2011

For my first review on Grandy’s Landing I’ve chosen one of the most extraordinary and thought-provoking novels I’ve read this year, or indeed any year, ‘The Night Following’ by Morag Joss.

This is psychological suspense of the literary kind, the writing quite breathtaking, the characterisation totally convincing despite the increasingly bizarre ruminations and behaviour of the unnamed narrator.

The narrator is a woman who has been living something of a fugitive life in smug, middle-class comfort.  Her marriage to Jeremy, an anaesthetist, has pretty well foundered in mutual indifference.  But it is the discovery of his adultery that triggers the events of the novel.  Shocked, she accidentally runs down and kills a lady cyclist on a country lane and drives away.

Her victim was sixty-one year old Ruth Mitchell, a retired English teacher and a member of the local women writers’ group.  Her husband Arthur, seven years her senior, is devastated and in a pitiable state, unkempt, sleepless, stumping about on ulcerated legs.  He dreams of exacting revenge on the beast who took Ruth from him.

Appalled at what she’s done, the narrator begins to haunt Arthur’s home.  Anxious over his plight and desperate to assuage her sense of worthlessness by making reparation, she gradually takes over Arthur’s care, assuming Ruth’s role to the extent that the helpless, grief-stricken widower is deceived into believing his wife has returned to him.

Ruth has left the manuscript of a book she was writing, a tale – possibly true? – of northern working class life in years-gone-by, with dark aspects to it.  Arthur writes letters to his dead wife as a form of therapy.  Ruth’s chapters and Arthur’s letters alternate with, and counterpoint, the main account, providing valuable insights and also relief from the twisted, tortured workings of the narrator’s mind.

So intensely visualised and well written is ‘The Night Following’ that I felt I was not so much reading the story as living it.  I mourned the death of Ruth, came to respect Arthur for the man he was beneath the crusty surface, and cared much for the wellbeing of the hit-and-run killer, for she was a victim too.  A comfortable experience this novel was not, but a rewarding one for sure.

I now look forward to acquiring Morag’s latest, ‘Across the Bridge’ (‘Among the Missing’, US edition).   

 

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