Macmillan, $34.95 hb
It seems like a slender connecting thread, but reading Kate Grenville’s new novel, Dark Places, reminded me of an experience I had hoped I’d forgotten: reading American Psycho. Reading stories with repellent narrators is like being left alone in a locked room with somebody you’d edge away from if you met him, or her, in a bar.
Such stories are unsettling in the way that good satire is unsettling; for, with an unpleasant (or indeed any unreliable) narrator, the reader’s own position is repeatedly dislocated and destabilised. No coherent, controlling point of view over the material can be safely either deduced or assumed – or, as a friend of mine once complained about a movie, ‘I couldn’t figure out whose side I was supposed to be on.’ Such narratives force us to abandon the comfortable assumption that we will all, writers and readers, more or less agree on what the writing ‘means’. It doesn’t necessarily take an unreliable narrator to produce this kind of effect, either; witness the wildly differing audience responses to The Piano or, 150 years earlier, Wuthering Heights.