Daugh­ter’s jour­ney of dis­cov­ery

The Herald - Arts - - PAPERBACK - Ru­pert Thom­son Lit­tle, Brown, £8.99 Re­view by Alas­tair Mab­bott Ru­pert Thom­son will be at the Ed­in­burgh In­ter­na­tional Book Fes­ti­val on Sun­day 21 Au­gust ALAS­TAIR MAB­BOTT

IMAG­INE go­ing through life in the kind of hy­per-aware state that has you search­ing for mean­ing in the most triv­ial of things, keep­ing a vig­i­lant eye out for the sign that will tell you which path to take next. That’s where 19-year-old Kather­ine Car­lyle is at the be­gin­ning of her epony­mous novel. In­tent on cut­ting her­self off from her old life, she plans to go off-grid and throw her­self into a blank and un­pre­dictable fu­ture dic­tated by co­in­ci­dence and ran­dom oc­cur­rences.

Kather­ine is English, although she lives in Rome be­cause that was where her late mother wanted to set­tle when she be­came ter­mi­nally ill. Her fa­ther is a for­eign cor­re­spon­dent for TV news.

He’s rarely home, and she feels he gives her lit­tle at­ten­tion when he is. He would, she be­lieves, have cho­sen to keep her mother alive and let Kather­ine die in her place if it had been in his power to do so. Doubts about her place in her fam­ily are ex­ac­er­bated by her ori­gins as an IVF baby. Why, she frets, did her par­ents keep the fer­tilised egg that would be­come Kather­ine in deep freeze for eight years be­fore im­plant­ing it?

There’s no sug­ges­tion that Kather­ine truly be­lieves the Uni­verse is prompt­ing her down a spe­cific path, any more than Dice Man Luke Rine­hart be­lieves an om­nipo­tent force is in­flu­enc­ing his throws; but it’s a use­ful fic­tion that serves a pur­pose. Even­tu­ally, she hits on the event that she will take as her sign: an over­heard con­ver­sa­tion be­tween a cou­ple in a cinema, in which they men­tion a man named Klaus Frings, who lives in Ber­lin. She de­cides she will seek him out. From there, she will al­low her­self to be buf­feted around by fur­ther ran­dom events un­til her path be­comes im­pos­si­ble to fol­low.

Hav­ing wiped her lap­top and drowned her phone, she sets off on a jour­ney of self-dis­cov­ery that’s both phys­i­cally and emo­tion­ally haz­ardous. It will take her to the end of the world, into con­di­tions of ex­treme cold not un­like those she en­dured be­fore birth.

Ul­ti­mately, it’s all about her daddy is­sues, which is a prob­lem­atic foun­da­tion to build a novel on, but Thom­son has taken an in­trigu­ing premise and com­pellingly ex­plored it, giv­ing the novel the emo­tional res­o­nance and ur­gency that comes from a woman will­ing to push her life to cri­sis point to re­solve her deep­est anx­i­eties.

On some level, she fully un­der­stands what she’s do­ing, more so than she lets on. But we know no bet­ter than Kather­ine does where the story is go­ing, where she will end up and what it will all mean to her.

Thom­son’s prose is sure-footed, and by giv­ing his story the ten­sion and pace of a thriller, and hang­ing an air of fore­bod­ing over the lat­ter half of her jour­ney, he ex­erts a mag­netic hold. Orig­i­nal and un­pre­dictable, this is a story that leaves in its wake a se­ries of haunt­ing af­ter­im­ages and, un­less he sur­passes him­self next time, is quite likely the novel for which he will be best re­mem­bered.

Ru­pert Thom­son’s orig­i­nal and un­pre­dictable novel is set in Ber­lin

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