Baby, Annaleese Jochems

Review Written By
Karen Chisholm

BABY is the story of a self-absorbed, narcissistic pain of a woman who is judgemental, obsessed by minutia, unreliable, untrustworthy, unlikeable and unbelievably compelling.

Which is quite an achievement when you think about it. Partly it's because the book starts out intense and unnerving, and keeps ramping that up to the point where whatever is wrong with Cynthia is nothing compared to whatever "this" is all about. Partly it's because the style is surprisingly low-key, so what starts out as seemingly a straight-forward, quick read is anything but.

Cynthia is a former university student (why former is never really explained), and she's obsessed with her fitness instructor Anahera. So she's there when Anahera's marriage disintegrates and the need to escape her circumstances becomes overwhelming. How this unlikely pairing team up, get themselves a boat and head for the Bay of Island just sort of unfolds, meaning the reader quickly becomes overwhelmingly invested in why (or what the...), not who or how. And the why is many faceted. Why does Anahera just go along with this? Why doesn't she comprehend Cynthia's level of obsession? Why is Cynthia doing this? Why a boat and why the great escape? Why is any of this happening at all?

It's cleverly done, the reader is wrong-footed so often by the low-key delivery style of what is ultimately an extremely creepy and increasingly wrong on so many levels scenario. A style which gently deflects the obvious questions about how truly awful Cynthia really is, all the while building an impending sense of threat that constantly remains unfocused - what, or by whom, how or where. And that question again ... why?

BABY always comes back to that why. It's a psychological thriller, perfectly pitched to present an almost banal, superficial face to the world. Underneath there are tensions, passions, desires, mistakes and deliberate acts - all of which mean that readers will not be able to avoid a visceral reaction - positive or negative, and this will definitely be a book that will engender strong reactions either way. 

On the one hand, manipulative, on the other cleverly constructed, the point of BABY is reader engagement. It's meant to be disconcerting, discomforting, pushing you out of your comfort zone. BABY definitely comes across as not meaning to be easy, or immediately obvious, but those readers that come down on the positive side, may find it will keep them thinking for quite a while. 

I originally read BABY when it was submitted to the Ngaio Marsh Award in New Zealand. As of March 2019, it has been released in Australia by Scribe Publications.

Book Source Declaration
I received a copy of this book from the publisher or author.
Year of Publication

‘Cynthia can understand how Anahera feels just by looking at her body.’

Cynthia is twenty-one, bored and desperately waiting for something big to happen. Her striking fitness instructor, Anahera, is ready to throw in the towel on her job and marriage. With stolen money and a dog in tow they run away and buy ‘Baby’, an old boat docked in the Bay of Islands, where Cynthia dreams they will live in a state of love. But strange events on an empty island turn their life together in a different direction.

Baby is a sunburnt psychological thriller of obsession and escape by one of the most exciting new voices in New Zealand fiction.

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