“The day our child was conceived, someone else arrived. She was there as the cells fused, like a ghost”. So begins Richard, one of the narrators in Joanna Briscoe’s assured third novel of betrayal, obsession and infidelity. Richard and his partner Lelia make love as they dress for a Christmas party. They arrive at the party flustered and late. Both are introduced to the slight, mousy Sylvie Lavigne but she fails to make a lasting impression on either. Soon however, Sylvie works her way into both of their lives, threatening to unbalance their relationship. Lelia confides in Sylvie about her pregnancy and her worries for the baby. But as Lelia’s longed-for baby grows inside of her, so too does Richard’s indifference towards fatherhood and his fascination with Sylvie.
Sylvie is a wonderful, compelling creation – manipulative, enigmatic, elusive, charming and changeable. Like Sylvie, Briscoe’s narrative works its charm slowly and carefully, building to a devastating conclusion. Richard and Lelia’s near-obsession with the unlikely Sylvie is entirely believable, and the novel is littered with striking imagery, such as Richard’s vision of the baby as a ‘yoky sac’ and the physical description of Sylvie herself, whose beauty is as changeable as her character.
Told from both Richard and Lelia’s perspective the characters and their world are confidently realised and the story races to a gripping, heart-in-mouth ending. Thrilling, surprising and poignant this will linger long in the memory.