Australian Moriarty (What Alice Forgot, 2011, etc.) has managed to combine an infectiously lighthearted romance about a Sydney hypnotherapist with a potentially upsetting examination of a stalker’s interior life.
In the first scene, an unnamed narrator has come for treatment for mysterious leg pains at the home of the eponymous heroine, Buddhist-leaning but not stereotypically New-Agey Ellen, who uses her powers of hypnotic persuasion to solve other people’s problems. Unfortunately, Ellen has been less successful solving her own problems in maintaining relationships. Then she meets surveyor Patrick, a widower, and the rapport is immediate. The romance proceeds swimmingly. Ellen even hits it off with Patrick’s 8-year-old son, Jack. There is only one little hitch: Patrick is being stalked by his ex-girlfriend Saskia, who turns out to be the leg pain patient. Chapters take turns showing Ellen’s and Saskia’s perspectives as events unfold. Ellen, whose self-professed goal in life is self-awareness, tends to overanalyze, but she is also endearingly honest in rooting out her true feelings. Saskia’s way of showing up and knowing everything about Ellen's and Patrick’s lives creeps her out, but Ellen also finds herself wanting to understand Saskia, especially when Ellen acknowledges her own reaction to Patrick’s lingering feelings for his dead wife. She is even drawn toward a gray ethical area in deciding whether to use her powers of suggestion on Patrick. But Saskia is the novel’s unexpected heart. Moriarty makes it clear why Patrick, who is refreshingly imperfect as a secondhand Prince Charming, finds Saskia a threatening presence in his life. How far she might go is worrisome. But like Ellen, readers will be drawn to Saskia. She is a predator but also a deeply troubled woman. Moriarty makes sure that any woman who has ever compared herself to a lover’s ex or Googled an ex of her own will identify to some degree with Saskia’s struggle to overcome what she recognizes is an unhealthy obsession.
Amazingly, the effervescent comedy and troubling melodrama combine to create a satisfying beach read, escapist but not unintelligent.