Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Morag Joss and The Night Following

Morag Joss is by no means a prolific author. The Night Following is only her sixth book since the first appeared back in 1996. I’ve never met her at any writer’s event, and I don’t know a great deal about her – but one thing I do know is that she is a novelist of genuine distinction, currently working in the borderland between what, in this age of categories, might be described as ‘psychological suspense’ and ‘literary fiction’.

I thought her award-winning Half Broken Things was superb, right up there with the best of Barbara Vine; it was also very well done on television. The Night Following was short-listed for an Edgar, and is a fine novel, although to describe it as a crime novel is pushing the definition of crime fiction to the limit. But that doesn’t really matter – what does matter is that it’s a haunting and impressive piece of work.

Briefly, the catalyst for a strange series of events is the unnamed narrator’s discovery that her husband is having an affair. In a state of shock, she drives off and kills an elderly female cyclist. Rather than giving herself up, she becomes obsessed by the dead woman’s husband, Arthur, and when she starts to hang around his home, he deludes himself that his wife has returned from the grave. Interwoven into the unsettling narrative, seen from the perspective of both the main characters, is an unpublished manuscript written by the dead woman, which tells a disturbing tale of the past. Gradually, the narrator assumes the role of Arthur’s wife….

I reviewed the book for Tangled Web UK and explained that, for all my admiration of it, I thought there were some flaws, not least the implausibility of the narrator’s behaviour. But it often happens, I think, that when an author takes chances, as Joss does here, not all of them come off – it’s a sign of ambition, and often a sign of a very good book. And The Night Following certainly is a very good book.


Deb said...

I enjoyed The Night Following to a point, but I thought the ending let down everything that had come before it--it seemed to spiral out of Joss's control. (I had a similar reaction to Sarah Waters's The Little Stranger which seemed to run out of steam during the last fifty or so pages.) I don't want to write anything that would be construed as a spoiler, but let me just say that Joss's book had an element of that "and then I woke up" ending that we were all warned to avoid in creative composition class.

Ann Elle Altman said...

Sounds like a great book. More of a psychological tale than crime but still wonderful.

I have a question for you, are any of your books coming to Kindle? I find it easier to purchase from Kindle than getting paper copies.


Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

I like your comment, Martin, that when an author takes chances with a book that it's usually a more complex and ambitious work.

I usually enjoy psychological suspense, and I'm not familiar with Joss. I'll look her up. Thanks...

Mystery Writing is Murder

Jilly said...

Good but flawed was my opinion as well. I couldn't quite swallow the narrator's behaviour.

Dorte H said...

As you compare her to Barbara Vine, she sounds like a writer I should try one day, but right now I have had my share of unconvincing plots.

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks very much for these comments - Deb and Jilly, I'm interested that you had similar reservations.
Ann - unfortunately, I don't think my books are coming to Kindle in the near future. But you never know what may happen in the longer term.

Mrs. B. said...

I've heard about this book off and on over the years but have yet to pick it up. I'll definitely check it out next time I'm at a book shop.