Secretary takes a sickie

FICTION: STALKING FIONA by Nigel Williams, Granta pounds 15.99

There are times when you suspect, reading Nigel Williams's disagreeable new novel, that he's attempting satire; just as there are times when you think he may be on the brink of an insight deep enough to justify this exercise in tastelessness. In both cases the impression quickly fades. Fiona, our frail secretary heroine, has been attacked and raped, once in her home, once at a hotel, possibly by the same masked man who has been murdering women down by the river. She knows her assailant is one of the three men in her office, all conveniently similar in build. Shaken, nervous, back at home with mum, she wakes to the sound of a package thumping on the doormat. It contains a computer disk with the rapist's gloating, anonymous account of his crimes, a huge, self-exculpating letter from one of the men, Paul, and excerpts from Fiona's own diary, with annotations by her boss. Having decided not to go to the police, she settles down to read, hoping thereby to divine the identity of her attacker. This means she has to read a brutal account of her own violation.

The idea of a crime seen - and solved - through four perspectives is intriguing, but it doesn't take very long for the plot to founder on the rocks of implausibility. Why doesn't Fiona go to the police? Oh, because the attacker has threatened to kill her if she does. Given that she has already had sex with Paul, how come she still can't tell - smell, size, sixth-sense - whether or not he's also the rapist? Can we believe that a rape victim would hand over her intimate diaries to a suspect? The problems multiply rather than resolve as the narrative progresses. Just how likely is it that a woman, raped in the night, will cheerfully turn up for work the next morning and go out for a lunchtime pizza with a man who might well be the rapist?

As she sifts the evidence, the three men turn up to plead, protest and blame each other. Fiona, still reading, decides she is safe as long as she keeps at least two of them in sight. The texts fragment and expand as the men creep up behind her and read over her shoulder, making interjections. Williams's deftness with the three-card trick is dizzying as he constantly shuffles the permutations.

Fiona herself is a compulsive writer as well as reader. The rapist describes his vigil in her bedroom: "She sat up in bed ... I thought at first that she was doing her nails. But such was the silence in the room that, after a minute or two, I could make out ... the scritch-scratch of a pen across paper. Oh Fiona! She's writing her fucking diary!" As a tricksy, postmodern subversion of novelistic conventions, this is old stuff; Fielding was here first in Shamela, his 1741 satire on Richardson's much-assaulted, scribbling heroine.

This is no whodunnit: Williams doesn't play by those rules. He taunts the reader with the untrustworthiness of the written word ("this is a story about how things look, about how a tone of voice or a trick of style can betray you and ... how words on a page can lie as easily and cruelly as the false lover in whose arms you may have fallen peacefully asleep"). But the solution isn't guessable, no matter how close the reading. At the end of the book, one of the three ciphers dutifully unmasks himself. "Now I knew it was him, of course, I couldn't understand why I hadn't recognised the fact long ago" - well, because there wouldn't have been a story then, Fiona.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy

tv Review: Miranda Hart and co deliver the festive goods

Arts and Entertainment
The cast of Downton Abbey in the 2014 Christmas special

tvReview: Older generation get hot under the collar this Christmas

Arts and Entertainment
Dapper Laughs found success through the video app Vine

comedy Erm...he seems to be back

Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)

tvReview: No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Arts and Entertainment
Bruce Forsyth and Tess Daly flanking 'Strictly' winners Flavia Cacace and Louis Smith

tv Gymnast Louis Smith triumphed in the Christmas special

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
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.

    A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

    Christmas without hope

    Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
    After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

    The 'Black Museum'

    After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
    Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

    Chilly Christmas

    Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
    Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all