Call Me Evie, J.P. Pomare
Marketed under the banner "incredible new literary thriller", CALL ME EVIE is the debut novel of New Zealand born, Melbourne based writer J.P. Pomare.
Opening in a manner guaranteed to make readers feel maximum discomfort, a young woman is in a bathroom, hacking at her long hair with a pair of small scissors when she's interrupted by an angry man, shouting and finishing the job roughly with a pair of hair clippers. She screams, he hits, neither of them clearly identified, the relationship and the power dynamic not explained. Gradually snippets of detail emerge, the pair are hiding out in a small town in New Zealand, avoiding something in the past, some never fully articulated threat, just "they" might find "them".
Putting aside the never-ending discussions of why "literary" and what it's telegraphing about the position of crime fiction in the literary world (let's just leave sales figures and reader engagement to speak for themselves), there is much about CALL ME EVIE that's classic psychological thriller, and much that's slightly different and cleverly constructed. Construction is possibly the key point here, the book is divided into parts, with the chapters within the parts headed "before <" and "> after". Told in the voice of central character "Kate / Evie" the action moves between these timelines. "before <" is all about her life as a teenager in Melbourne, daughter of a former sports star father, and a mother who died when she was a very young child. In this viewpoint she's a stereotypical teenager, struggling with one of those all too common bitchy all-encompassing friendships that are toxic and unbreakable when you're that age, as well as her growing attraction to "the" boy in their social circle. It's littered with the sorts of issues you'd expect of teenagers nowadays - access to phones, complicated engagements with parents, fraught social pressures, emerging independence and conflicts around love and developing sexual identity. The "> after" viewpoint is all set within the escape hole of New Zealand, and Kate/Evie's voice is more hesitant, more damaged, scared, vulnerable and obviously haunted by something that's happened in the recent past. Her relationship with the controlling and sometimes quite compassionate man isn't explained, her status of victim / captive / co-conspirator hard to define.
And from there we really must leave discussions of plot elements as the power of CALL ME EVIE is in how the reader isn't supposed to be sure what, exactly, is going on with Kate / Evie. There are definitely points in the narrative that you would be well within their rights to make some educated guesses, but you may also find yourself swept into the storyline so comprehensively that there's more page-turning happening than thoughtful contemplation. For this reader there was also the odd point at which the narrative dragged a bit, and a feeling of being overtly manipulated snuck into play.
CALL ME EVIE is however a powerful psychological thriller, exploring the complications of memory (as hinted at in the opening quotations). But it's memory in all it's false, guilty, happy, searching, fragmented, convenient and confrontational guises.
For the past two weeks, seventeen-year-old Kate Bennet has lived against her will in an isolated cabin in a remote beach town--brought there by a mysterious man named Bill. Part captor, part benefactor, Bill calls her Evie and tells her he's hiding her to protect her. That she did something terrible one night back home in Melbourne--something so unspeakable that he had no choice but to take her away. The trouble is, Kate can't remember the night in question.
The fragments of Kate's shattered memories of her old life seem happy: good friends, a big house in the suburbs, a devoted boyfriend. Bill says he'll help her fill in the blanks--but his story isn't adding up. And as she tries to reconcile the girl she thought she'd been with the devastating consequences Bill claims she's responsible for, Kate will unearth secrets about herself and those closest to her that could change everything.
A riveting debut novel that fearlessly plumbs the darkest recesses of the mind, Call Me Evie explores the fragility of memory and the potential in all of us to hide the truth, even from ourselves.