North & South
THE SUICIDE CLUB
SARAH QUIGLEY ( VINTAGE, $ 38)
Sarah Quigley’s The Conductor was a high point in fiction of recent years and the follow-up is a more than worthy successor. After the historical reimagining of The Conductor, Quigley gives some other literary muscles a workout. This is writing fuelled by a vivid energy. And more than a few puns.
As the novel opens, young and extremely successful writer Bright is preparing to jump from the 20th floor of a building. Before he can do that, however, he is apparently pushed. He survives the fall.
Some surprising antecedents come to mind as the story progresses. The Bavarian spa, which feels like the dystopian communities of J.G. Ballard’s fiction, with a hint of Thomas Mann’s magic mountain. Beckett is mentioned and echoed. There’s an absurd discussion about the origin of protagonist Gibby Lux’s name that made me think of Tom Sharpe.
Gibby’s parents’ names are Adam and Eve – the pair who fell when seduced by the one who fell from the light. Lace – the third member of the central trio of characters – was originally called Grace. The theme of falling begins with Bright’s rooftop plummet and continues throughout. The pieces are all there to be put together, although the suicide club itself is not convened until halfway through the book.
Bright, Gibby and Lace come together at the spa, The Palace, which is run by a doctor called Geoffrey who insists on using first names and refers to death as The Light. A love triangle, hilarity, tragedy and much more ensue. For quite some time, the relevance of the title is unclear, which makes it all the more shocking when we learn it.
Two digressive notes to end. The cover is awful. It suggests a pastoral romance, and not a very good one, rather than the sophisticated, gritty fiction that readers will be pleased to encounter. And four cheers for the absence of that blight of contemporary fiction: acknowledgments. No one cares that the writer’s agent did their job or their friends behaved like friends.