Leaving the World, By Douglas Kennedy

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The Independent Culture

The joys of self-sabotage are often found at the heart of Douglas Kennedy's fiction. His characters may start out as well-adjusted professionals in happy relationships, but you can be sure that by chapter five they'll find themselves on the run – both from the authorities and themselves. It's what makes his books fly off the shelves.

Jane Howard, like many of Kennedy's female narrators, is an anxious East Coast over-achiever. Having survived an embattled childhood, she finds herself at Harvard, where she falls in love with her married supervisor. Just as the relationship looks set to blossom, her part-time boyfriend gets hit by an oncoming truck. "A chacun son destin" is one of the recurring maxims of Kennedy's work - his French fans approve - and from this point on, Jane's prospects don't look good.

The next man to enter her life is Theo Morgan, a film fanatic and all-round nasty piece of work. Together they have a daughter, but Theo proves as ill-equipped for fatherhood as for earning a living. In a moment of maternal multi-tasking, Jane once again manages to lose the love of her life– under the wheels of a speeding cab. In any other writer's hands, this pile-up of misery might sound risible, but Kennedy keeps us wanting to know what happens next. Third acts are his forte, and the story of Jane's flight to Canada has all the pay-offs of an adult fairy tale. It's tempting to criticise this book as manipulative, but being taken advantage is exactly what we pay him to do.