The death of Jared’s girlfriend untethered him from normal society. Now he lives in their flat, never stepping outside, fulfilling both necessity and whim solely with internet shopping. But he does not live alone: seeming more than just imagination, both his dead girlfriend and her imaginary replacement follow him, providing comfort and threat.
Pearce’s timing is spot-on. Starting from a position of sadness, each new event provides slightly more evidence that Jared’s world might not just be the delusions of grief. Combined with the delicate revelation of his past, presented not in fact, but in flawed recollection and, at times, deliberate fiction, the reader suddenly realises the facts their interpretation rests upon have slipped away unnoticed.
Counterbalancing this creeping paranoia is an ongoing explanation of how Jared runs his life: repeated descriptions of accepting take-away deliveries; tedious but rational descriptions of his stock-piling habits. Denied the comfort of saying Jared is unable to maintain his lifestyle, the reader must face true horror: that madness is so very close to normality.
Having built a backdrop of slightly fractured reality, Pearce people’s it with immensely plausible characters. Although the reader might not share Jared’s terror of leaving the house, they will feel an immediate understanding of his habit of sleeping in whichever room he is in when he gets tired.
The minor characters are similarly drawn in tiny details: an inconsiderate neighbour recognisable to any reader is formed from a single description of music; the regular delivery person from eyes framed in a helmet.
But perhaps Pearce’s greatest triumph is that, having replaced the reader’s confidence in what is real with a struggle to distinguish reality from hallucination, he adds a further explanation for events without either damaging plausibility or reducing the reader’s drive to find the truth.
I enjoyed this novella greatly, both as an immersive portrayal of the struggle with delusion and as a technically skilled crescendo. I recommend it to readers seeking a short but well-formed excursion into the liminal zone between reason and fear.