Daughter’s journey of discovery
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