Cape £12.99

Every Contact Leaves a Trace, By Elanor Dymott

Packed with shadowy oddness

I lived for a while in Oxford in the drifting pause after university, a period of 18 months in which I was most definitely "town", yet maintained social links to "gown". One evening, I was invited to dinner at Worcester College as the guest of a postgraduate student. He was rather a strange and gloomy chap, and by extension I felt that the college was rather a strange and gloomy place. So, it was with a smile of recognition that I began Elanor Dymott's eerie debut novel, Every Contact Leaves a Trace, a book that is suffused with shadowy oddness.

The book's thirty-something narrator, Alex, is a lawyer who, along with his wife Rachel, studied at Worcester College in the early Nineties. Many years later, the pair sit down to an alumni supper in the murky rooms of the college. By the end of the night, Rachel is lying face down in the gardens with her head staved in.

A catalogue of not-to-be-trusted flashbacks plays out: the couple's student days, their brief summer fling in halls, their rekindled romance and marriage more than a decade later. It also details Rachel's elite group of friends, a cabal of undergrads riven by rivalry. This is all told through Alex's rather unreliable prism, a technique that brings to mind those of Ian McEwan, Ford Madox Ford and Donna Tartt.

A pervading sense of intrigue swirls through the prose like mist in the spires, first obfuscating then relinquishing details. The manner in which Rachel's true character only emerges posthumously makes this tale a contemporary echo of Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca. We are made to think ill of the dead.

In addition to creating a cleverly calibrated and creepy murder mystery, Dymott has also fashioned a neatly tailored exploration of the desperate psychology of loss. We learn of the cold awfulness of gaining happiness, after years of loneliness, only to have it cleaved away. "I miss her. That's the long and the short of it," states Alex. "I miss the ease of our silence, and I miss the fact that she wanted me to be with her."

Dymott has written a story that is shaped by the nebulous nature of knowledge, especially as it is found in the upper echelons of institutional learning. She repeatedly reminds readers that they don't have the facts. This is a cunning, sharp first novel that revels in keeping one in the dark. Reading it was an opaque experience not unlike my own evening in Worcester College.

Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

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

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

    They fled war in Syria...

    ...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
    From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

    Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

    Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
    Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

    Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

    Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
    From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

    Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

    From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
    Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

    Kelis interview

    The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea