BOOKS FICTION; All for the love of a good wraith

SO I AM GLAD by A L Kennedy, Cape pounds 9.99
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"I ONLY told you I was calm; I never told you I was nice." Jennifer, the narrator of A L Kennedy's second novel, has retreated behind a wall of anonymity from memories of childhood sexual abuse, not as bad as some people's but quite enough to be going on with. She is merely a mouthpiece, imbuing radio voice-overs with all the luscious emotion she has chased from her own life.

Jennifer eschews relationships: "It made me uneasy to lock my door at night and know that there was someone there who was supposed to be special for me. They would want me to ask things and try to find out about me. Like manholes and poison bottles I was made to be self locking and I could no longer be bothered pretending I had a key." She opts to share a house with strangers, having long since learned to counterfeit the responses necessary for daily social intercourse. The book is her attempt to set out, as a written record in which she speaks to the reader as an intimate friend, the process by which she became unfrozen. It is a dark and painful odyssey, a struggle towards redemption in company with a soul which matches her own in its imagination and capacity for cruelty.

For the house suddenly acquires another tenant to live with cheerful Arthur and scatty Liz. The small slight man with a neat mouth and a touch which leaves luminous traces on the hands he holds appears in an upstairs bed, just like that. He is Cyrano de Bergerac, plucked from Purgatory by a creator whose belief in them is greater than their belief in him, to effect Jennifer's salvation and his own. Against a backdrop of gentle barracking from Arthur whose merry Glaswegian normality is a device, if one were needed, to highlight the strangeness of both protagonists and situation, their relationship develops. "I do not want to be opened up, I do not want to be completed." Jennifer struggles, but the love of a good wraith prevails .

Kennedy is a very funny writer with a real flair for dialogue, and the comments she puts in the mouth of her narrator as she wakes up from her self- imposed coma and grasps the awfulness of the news she reads are Swiftian in their satirical bite. She has a disquieting comprehension of the dark side of the human psyche. Cyrano's attempt to flee his inner demons with drugs and his physical destruction of the man who supplied them are horribly real, and one can only hope that her description of a little mild SM session that cost one participant a week off work is not drawn from her own experience. Jennifer herself is a creation whose complex thought processes are well worth the effort of following them. She is someone with whose self-doubt and inner struggles we can all identify, and she is infinitely more sympathetic than she supposes.