Gittins’ fourth novel updates the premise of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s memorably enigmatic little fable “Wakefield”—a man abandons his wife on a whim, moves one street away, then returns to her 20 years later on another whim—for the surveillance age.
Jack Connolly has always assumed he can trust Tia, the event planner who’s his frequent partner in business and bed. But maybe that’s just because he’s never thought about it. After all, Jack himself isn’t entirely trustworthy. His star as a noted photojournalist fell with the disclosure that he’d faked an iconic picture. So when he spots Tia in a briefly suggestive pose with Joseph, the co-owner of her agency, he can’t help wondering if she’s got something going. A nasty railroad accident outside London soon gives him his chance. He packs his bags, moves into a hotel, and waits to see how his ladylove reacts to her increasingly sharp suspicion that he was one of the casualties aboard the train. The refinement Jack adds to Hawthorne’s model is a battery of state-of-the-art surveillance devices that allow him to track Tia’s every move and, as long as she stays in their flat, catch well-nigh every facial expression. What he sees tells him that she’s clearly frantic, then genuinely grieved, and that she’s got secrets he’s never suspected. But nothing he sees persuades him to return. Like Hawthorne’s feckless hero, he keeps thinking from moment to moment that he’ll go back. But something keeps coming up to prevent him, mostly in the guise of faces from his past—his ex-lover Natsuo, heavy-handed dilettante Toby Vine, a light-fingered pawnbroker named Ben, and of course Dom, the insinuating surveillance expert—who suddenly turn up on his radar in unsettling new roles.
Gittins (Secret Shelter, 2015, etc.) takes forever to navigate past the overlong flashbacks that dot the first half of this tale. Readers who survive this extended setup, however, will find themselves irresistibly drawn into Jack’s paranoid world of self-induced claustrophobia.