The one that got away

Anna Murphy reads a fishy tale of seduction; The Hook by Raffaella Barker Bloomsbury, pounds 14.99
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The Independent Culture
Twenty-year-old Christy works on her father's trout farm. She laughs when her sister warns her that there's "something fishy" about her new boyfriend, and replies, "Come on Maisie, we're a lot more fishy than Mick, literally." The Hook is about the slippery nature of identity: it explores the dangerous inevitability of letting other people shape your perception of yourself and others, and the way in which love, both sexual and familial, can blur the boundaries of identity. Watery imagery refracts characters and events, only occasionally becoming laboured, and everyone is shown to be in some way "fishy".

Before she met Mick, Christy "didn't really believe she existed if no one was there to see her". She sees in him the chance to find herself; "to shed her skin of transparent shyness and swim out supple and strong". Her adolescent identity crisis has been magnified by an invidious relationship with her now-dead mother, of whom Christy is a younger replica. The mother felt her daughter's "slender youth mocked her"; a dress-buying trip, when the older woman was overcome with hatred at her usurper, is painfully recalled. But whereas Christy's mother rejects her child - even from the grave - Mick swamps her, making decisions, arranging things; his "vast appetite swallowing hers". He makes her feel both empowered and impotent.

This man who takes over Christy's life is without identity: he comes with no past, and no present other than when he is with her. They meet in a nightclub on her birthday and the anniversary of her mother's death and he mysteriously knows her name. Yet neither Christy nor the reader learns much more than what Mick looks like. And even the scar on his forehead - one of the few things revealed about him - changes appearance and becomes something about which he invents stories. As Christy's suspicions of Mick mount, the scar suddenly appears "like a hook caught beneath the skin". It is only a matter of time before the true Mick is reeled in.

The account of the love affair is soon sunk in mystery. Where does Mick get his money from? Where does he disappear to? Who are his secret friends? Mick seduces the other people Christy loves - her father and brother - as easily as he does her, and stops her from seeing for herself. She feels it is "better to glide on the surface, darting between those half-submerged questions without touching them".

Flash-forwards to the courtroom provide narrative "hooks" in which Mick's shady other life is revealed. "Mr Fleet is presenting his life," says the Judge; "we need to know him before we can judge him". Mick's life has always been a fiction: Christy has never really known him. Barker manipulates different levels of knowledge so that the reader knows more than Christy, but never too much more. The Hook combines stylish, careful and insightful writing with the pace and verve of a thriller.