ATLANTIC, £12.99 Order for £11.69 from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030

Thief, By Maureen Gibbon

A treat both horrific and thoughtful

This is a short, shocking novel which grips from the first page. It is the story of a relationship between Suzanne, a young woman still healing from a rape by a friend's brother, and her would-be lover, the ironically named Alpha.

The problem is that this prospective boyfriend is a convicted rapist.

Suzanne meets Alpha through a small ad and is compulsively attracted to him and his desire to make amends. The way he takes over her life drives the narrative but the questions Maureen Gibbon raises about abuse, attraction and damage – the highly charged emotions between the rapist and the raped – are so subtly explored as to make the reader want to complete the novel in one sitting.

Suzanne is a teacher who has fled the city for the countryside to find a way of coming to terms with her experience. No hermit, she seeks out men but always those with dark hair, because "my rapist was blond".

Can perpetrator and victim save each other? This is the underlying question. Although the book has a dark tone, there are moments of humour. Through another small ad, Suzanne meets a cowboy with a broken leg with whom she falls immediately in love. Gibbon manages to make this quasi-relationship amusing but at the same time alludes to a female tendency to plunge into amorous fantasy with a line of unsuitable men.

The desire for the hoodlum and consequent guilt is a recurring theme. What makes the book so impressive is the way the central character has insight into her own fury, hurt and sexual guilt. Is she partly responsible for her own rape, and is this why she has to get close to someone else's rapist? The novel is so absorbing because the protagonist has a measure of psychological insight. She knows the reasons for her attraction to dangerous men but she can't stop herself going there.

There is another man who offers a shadowy hope. Suzanne is renting her deserted house from the 70-year-old Merle, who gently welcomes her to stay in his place. He is the good father-figure who could also double as a potential lover. His character is not fleshed out but he is there at the fringes of the story, a presence who might repair the damaged Suzanne. However, there is no happy end. Rather, this is a disturbing exploration of sexual degradation and the way it corrodes a woman's life.

Arts and Entertainment

game of thrones reviewWarning: spoilers

Arts and Entertainment
The original Star Wars trio of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill

George Osborne confirms Star Wars 8 will film at Pinewood Studios in time for 4 May

film

Arts and Entertainment
Haunted looks: Matthew Macfadyen and Timothy Spall star in ‘The Enfield Haunting’

North London meets The Exorcist in eerie suburban drama

TV

Arts and Entertainment

Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington plays MI5 agent Will Holloway in Spooks: The Greater Good

'You can't count on anyone making it out alive'film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before