The prolific Tracy Ryan’s new novel, Claustrophobia, is a smart and fast-paced hurtle through lust, obsession, and stultifying patterns of dependency and self-delusion. Written in a low-key, ironic style, Ryan borrows from tropes of crime fiction, in particular the novels of Patricia Highsmith, as well as the double-crossing figure of the femme fatale, to tell the story of Pen, a seemingly ordinary and slightly bored woman from the Perth hills. Pen is married to Derrick, whom she has encouraged to succeed in the world, albeit in modest ways, since the emotional breakdown which preceded their meeting. Ten years on, working part-time at Derrick’s school and unable to have children, Pen’s motivation is running low. Incapable of mustering the energy to clear the house or to complete the renovation which has dragged on for years, Pen’s life is suddenly and explosively changed when she finds a returned letter Derrick had sent to his previous lover – the lover whose rejection had sent him into despair.
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