Books: Computer malfunctions

Frances Fyfield switches off

Stalking Fiona by Nigel Williams, Granta, pounds 15.99

Enter the alternative heroine, on big feet. Fiona is a lonely girl secretary with an ugly flat and undecided life. There was once a man called Dave ,but she got rid of him. Her closest relationship of any kind is with her mum, a grey specimen of parenthood who never opens her mouth except to state the irritatingly obvious ("Oh, you're in, are you?") - a style of dialogue which is obviously infectious.

The substitute for life as other 23-three year olds might know it is the regime of her office. Here, Fiona is the apparently anonymous focal point for three accountants, Peter, Paul and John. There may be something significant in their apostolic names, but in any event, this is no ordinary set-up. One of the accountants is a psychotic murderer who, complete with marigold gloves and horrible mask, has invaded Fiona's dreary apartment and raped her, leaving her with the immortal threat, (in a heavily disguised voice, of course), "If you tell anyone about this, I will kill you."

There follows the murderer's second attack, in bizarre circumstances, when again it could have been any one of the three. His communications both confess the crime to her and their computers, while pretending to be one of the other suspects at the same time. The bits on disc are in block capitals, to save confusion.

The two innocent accountants, who secretly love Fiona, conspire in separate communications to save her and themselves. Yet they remain equally suspect, since the pall of corruption hangs over the place. One of the accountants is a lecher, the second a victim of childhood trauma and the third a model family man.

Fiona and reader, between them, are supposed to decipher which one is guilty from her first person-recollection, via a diary and narrative, and from theirs, with letters, discs and so on.

In the meantime, Fiona is safer than she might be anywhere else for as long as she is with two out of the three suspects - unless they are all in it together.

Three voices, all in the first person, with scarcely a shift in tone or style, make this novel a monochrome nightmare to read. There are the conventionally violent, pornographic fantasies of the culprit, which could have been learned from under-the-counter merchandise at any video store. Then there is the prospect that Fiona might be making it all up to add a little titillation to the suspense - although finding much suspense at all is like looking for an envelope when there are none in the house.

It would be a clever conceit to weave a plot around four, anonymous people if there were indeed something distinctive about their voices, and only if we could be made to care about the fate of at least one of them. Frankly, towards the middle of this novel (let alone the end) it was difficult to give a shit whether poor, passive Fiona was impaled on a stake, never mind raped.

If the other three were to spend the rest of life sharing a cell, so much the better, so long as their conversation was not recorded for posterity. Perhaps Williams is being too subtle in failing to realise that first- person reported narrative is notoriously difficult to sustain, especially when diffused between so many narrators. Maybe this is a cult book for pre-dawn Internet freaks, in love with the screen and incapable of other communication. Could it even be a private joke, without a public laugh. Perhaps it is simply, a failed experiment.

There is no obligation on a writer as fine as Nigel Williams can be to define either his genre or his motive. And there is certainly some elegant and lucid prose in this book, which gives it the feeling of a Pinteresque script in the making. But it has all the signs of an author drunk with subject matter, writing in the absence of anyone tapping his shoulder.

That figure at his shoulder should have reminded him that the crime genre, into which this novel inevitably falls, is rich in literary talent these days. Anyone who dabbles in it must at least create genuine sympathy and suspense. Taking the minimalist approach is fine, but not at the risk of clarity or heart.

Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’


Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'


Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from


Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
Owen said he finds films boring but Tom Hanks managed to hold his attention in Forrest Gump
Arts and Entertainment
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch
Music Album is set to enter UK top 40 at lowest chart position in 30 years
Arts and Entertainment
The Michael McIntyre Chat Show airs its first episode on Monday 10 March 2014
Arts and Entertainment


These heroes in a half shell should have been left in hibernation
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North
books'The Narrow Road to the Deep North' sees the writer become the third Australian to win the accolade
Arts and Entertainment
New diva of drama: Kristin Scott Thomas as Electra
Arts and Entertainment
Arts and Entertainment
Daenerys Targaryen, played by Emilia Clarke, faces new problems

Sek, k'athjilari! (That’s “yes, definitely” to non-native speakers).

Arts and Entertainment
Polly Morgan

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

    Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

    Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
    British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

    British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

    Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
    Let's talk about loss

    We need to talk about loss

    Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
    Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

    Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

    Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
    Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

    'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

    If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
    James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
    Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

    Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

    Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
    Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

    Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

    Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
    How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

    How to dress with authority

    Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
    New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

    New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

    'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
    Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

    Tim Minchin interview

    For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
    Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
    Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

    Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

    Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album