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Friday 26 July 2013
‘Tideline’ by Penny Hancock
The unreliable narrator is a useful device in suspense fiction, and the main narrator of this taut, atmospheric novel is more unreliable than most.
It’s a story about troubled women. Sonia is in her early forties, and has a turbulent past and a present which doesn’t help matters. Helen finds it hard to take responsibility, and blocks out reality with alcohol. The lion’s share of the narration falls to Sonia, and Helen fills out the details Sonia can’t be aware of.
The story revolves around Sonia’s kidnapping and imprisonment of a beautiful teenage boy, Jem, who reminds her powerfully of a boy from her own teenage years whose identity remains unrevealed until almost the end. She doesn’t see it as kidnapping, of course; even when her family arrives home and she has to hide him in the garage in hypothermic temperatures, she only wants what she sees as the best for him, and is prepared to go to any lengths to give it to him.
Hancock sets the disquieting narrative against a richly evocative background of the Thames embankment – the river and Sonia’s house on the edge of are almost characters in their own right – and winds up the tension level by degrees until it, and Sonia, finally snaps. It carries potent echoes of the John Fowles classic The Collector, though Sonia is a more sympathetic character than Fowles’s chilling butterfly fanatic. Her damaging relationships with her glacial mother, bullying husband and distant daughter may strike chords with some readers, and certainly provide a credible context for her troubled mind.
Helen is at the centre of the police search for Jem, and has her own troubles to contend with. She is only one of a varied cast of characters to whom Hancock applies a deft hand. Tideline isn’t a comfortable read, but then the best suspense novels never are. It may mess with your head; Jem is the only innocent party, but I found myself feeling reluctant sympathy for both Sonia and Helen and none at all for their abrasive families.
It’s Penny Hancock’s debut. If she continues in this vein, she may well become a contender for Sophie Hannah’s crown.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick
Penny Hancock. Afterr several years in London, Penny Hancock now lives in Cambridge with her husband and three children. She is a part-time primary school teacher at a speech and language school and has travelled extensively as a language teacher. Tideline is her first novel.
Lynne Patrick has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen, and has enjoyed success with short stories, reviews and feature journalism, but never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to the dark side to become a publisher for a few years, and is proud to have launched several careers which are now burgeoning.
She lives on the edge of rural Derbyshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.