VANISHING POINT - Pat Flower
VANISHING POINT by Pat Flower was originally published in 1975, and re-released by Wakefield Press as part of their Crime Classics series in 1993. It is the first of three important thrillers written by this author before her suicide in 1978.
The Wakefield edition has an afterword written by editors Michael J. Tolley and Peter Moss which is well worth reading for some background to the author herself, as well as their take on the book. It includes this quotation from the author:
"People sometimes ask as they edge away, Why Murder? I'm absorbed in characters, not in murder. In ordinary people a bit round the bend. I like to follow the effects on my characters of heredity, environment and circumstance, and reveal in action, reaction and interaction the instability which might in real life go unnoticed but in my books is fatal. For my crackpots, murder is the only way out. Instead of moving to another town, or trying sweet reason, they resort to the "final solution". And find, of course, that it isn't."
VANISHING POINT is most definitely a book about character. A character who, it becomes obvious, is more than just a bit around the bend. This central character - Geraldine - is completely, utterly and ruthlessly obsessed. Whilst her main obsession will always be with herself - the way that she sees the world and the way that she believes others see her; she imposes that obsession on her husband Noel, who would never quite live up to her expectations.
The portrayal of Geraldine is the core genius of this book. The book is told in her own voice surely making her a sympathetic character - "spinning" the story in her own favour. Geraldine is convinced of the truth of her life, her perceptions and her behaviour. She believes fully in herself. She has some awareness that other's find her a difficult character but that is obviously as a result of their short-comings. Her opinions are absolutely sacrosanct, her behaviour exemplary. Everything that happens in Geraldine's life is commentated on, observed by, understood and rationalised by Geraldine, yet she cannot engender sympathy in the reader. Her force of belief in herself makes her a disconcertingly creepy and sinister figure - myopic and self-involved, unwilling to entertain any contrary opinions (most likely totally and absolutely unaware of contrary opinions), Geraldine can't entertain the idea that she can possibly be at fault. That her behaviour might be questioned by others. There are no adverse reactions that cannot be dismissed. But the reader is watching Geraldine misreading situations, misunderstanding people's reactions and wilfully refusing to recognise what is happening around her by simply ignoring any inconvenient facts. It's a masterly writing effort - it's fascinating whilst also being ever so slightly repellant.
The book is also a story about murder - but understanding Geraldine makes it conceivable that murder is a boring inconvenience. Geraldine must retain total control over her life and if removing a few tediums along the way is no more taxing than any other boring little daily task - then so be it. Geraldine isn't so much a woman without a conscience as a woman completely without conscious.
There are some sparse hints of Geraldine's background - there is possibly a reason why she is like she is. But the background, or the causes for Geraldine's personality are not the point of this book. This isn't a why or even much of a how story. It's a stunning reminder of how unaware people can be about their affect on others. It reminds the reader of the nature of obsession and the way that it can override all logic. All reasoned perception, all mitigating behaviours are gone as Geraldine encourages obsession to rule.
Unfortunately Pat Flower doesn't seem to be very well known in Australia which is pity. Whilst some of her earlier books are less interesting, more by way of mainstream entertaining crime fiction (not that there is anything wrong with that!), her final three thrillers have often been remarked upon as fascinating examples of their type. It's a pity that they aren't more widely read. I remember reading her final three books when they were first released, but I suspect I wasn't quite old enough at that stage to understand the full impact of them. I certainly remember finding Geraldine a discomforting but somewhat illuminating character. Reading it again 30 something years on - the full impact of how Geraldine has created and reinforced and fought for her own reality is sobering.
Cruel, egotistical Noel, a thistledown, a cheap balloon whisking willy-nilly away from the piercing, deflating needle of her fine judgement. Geraldine needs to keep her cool through the highs and the lows, but it's maddening when Noel keeps missing the point. The trek up north was gruelling, yet every plant and bird she saw, every sweaty, purposeless mile she crossed, convinced her that they were made for each other. Back home in Sydney, when there's still a gap between them, he has to be made to see.