Voyeur by Francesca Reece

Reviewed by Ian Lipke

Becoming absorbed in this book is a near impossibility. The author loves the English language and can produce compelling description and tell a narrative in a style completely her own. But there are weaknesses in this story that make it very hard going. I found, for example, that I could not warm to the characters, with one exception, a woman who flits into the story but thereafter is talked about but never seen.

The plot has little influence compared to the characters and the descriptions. While these aspects are influential, they are often over-inflated, as this passage from Michael shows:

“I was liquid by the time this new version of Julian pulled me into a would-be brotherly embrace…Looking at him was like looking at warped heat rising off tarmac in August the space round him was deformed, as if he was the burning end of a candle wick” (283),

or, Michael again,

“In Greece I’d be a wayfaring Byronic-fucking-hero. A moment of brilliant illumination – white light, the colour of an Ionian wave cresting as it rears up to die, the colour of snowy cottages with cyan windowsills” (248).

I cannot read any sense into the first passage and believe only a child would see himself as described in the second. This style of writing appears many times. When the author retains control, the result is often beautiful.  “It had been a thick, oppressive afternoon. The sky had been a churned-up vortex of grey, turning the fractured sea violet and the pines denser than ever” (271). Again, “I find everyone’s weird self-mythologizing in this family kind of dull. We’re like a family made up entirely of anecdotes and dead people” (173).

Clarissa’s comment focuses on the disappearance of Astrid. Some believe she is dead; others assert that she is living and working in Greece. Only one family member knows for certain. Astrid is the focus of what plot there is. The characters, in the main, seem to be undirected, their lives without meaning. Satisfaction of the senses is their only common purpose.

The story is supposedly about Leah, a ‘lost’ sixteen-year-old who, jobless, applies for a task of typing Michael’s diaries. They appear to cover the 1960s period in his life. Leah is invited to join the family at their holiday place in France. She is bilingual and has little trouble fitting in. She seems to have no problem taking part as a sixteen-year-old in nude activities and has sex on several occasions. The focus is not on Leah but on others whose familial links are confusing to say the least. Furthermore, since there are so many characters, if the reader wants to ascertain which man has formed a couple with which woman/man, the answer depends on who is available at the time in question.

Keeping tabs is a headache no reader wants. It is obvious that Michael carries a great load of guilt and attempts to cope by drinking until he is paralytic and sleeping with whatever female (or occasionally male) is available. Finding himself in trouble with Astrid (probably, but who knows?) Michael stands in front of a mirror and practises his speech explaining and excusing his misconduct but is so drunk when she returns late, he hurts her with his rough speech and his jealousy of Stephen. Who is Stephen? (You’re kidding, aren’t you?). So many characters, so many situations, so many examples of aimless, often drunken and dope-driven escapades, so much overwriting – there is really only one item of interest in the whole sorry mess. Readers want to know what happened to Astrid. The solution casts light on one of the main characters and reaffirms the opinion we’d already formed of him.

Why the title Voyeur? Ask me an easy one.

I suggest you pass on this book.

Voyeur

(2021)

by Francesca Reece

Tinder Press (Hachette UK)

ISBN: 978-1-4722-7220-1

$32.99; 384 pp

 

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