An erotic and creepy debut about an Australian teacher who tempts fate by sleeping with the father of one of her students.
In a small town in Tasmania, the just-out-of-college Kate Byrne is carrying on an affair with Thomas, the distant and rather callous father of Lucien, a member of Kate’s fourth-grade class. Besides the usual worries about discovery, Kate is increasingly preoccupied with Thomas’s wife, Veronica, who has just published a true crime book called Murder at Black Swan Point, about a case whose similarities to Kate’s situation are more than a little troubling: a mother who discovers that her husband is having an affair with the younger woman who works at his clinic—and has sometimes watched after their kids—kills the adulteress and then disappears. Kate is concerned also about Lucien, a gifted and almost preternaturally wise child whose writing and drawings are full of anger and death—perhaps brought on by his presumably cold home life and Veronica’s grisly research. Disagreeing with many of the conclusions in Veronica’s book, Kate spends time imagining her own version, hers told by indigenous animals and targeted at children—with fanciful little shards of this story slotted in between the novel’s increasingly claustrophobic and surreal chapters. Hooper—a confident if occasionally show-offy first-timer—doesn’t provide much forward movement; the narrative progresses mostly in Kate’s head as memories of her own past blur into her imaginings of other people’s pasts and presents. At first, it’s difficult to see why Kate would ever willingly thrust herself into such a precarious position, setting herself up to be dealt with in a bloody fashion by a murder-obsessed Veronica, but Hooper deftly manuevers the reader to Kate’s fragile point of view, with its obsessions—killing, writing—that are reminiscent of Susanna Moore’s In the Cut.
Sometimes a bit heavy on the atmosphere but nonetheless an affecting thriller that mixes just the right gothic chills with erotically charged suspense.