Review - CLAUSTROPHOBIA, Tracy Ryan
Using a title like CLAUSTROPHOBIA obviously sets certain expectations for readers, which luckily, in this outing are uncomfortably well imagined. There's something incredibly claustrophobic about everything to do with this book. The enclosed, world that the two main characters Pen and her husband Derrick occupy. From their home life, working together at the same school, even when Pen finally breaks away to another job, albeit for reasons that Derrick doesn't know. It's not just circumstances though. Of course, with Pen as the main narrator of the book there is an inward focus, but even with that there's something locked down, controlled yet bubbling about everything that places the the reader in a claustrophobic, uncomfortable, almost voyeuristic position.
There's also something incredibly compelling about CLAUSTROPHOBIA. Not necessarily likeable, these characters are mesmerising. Right from the beginning when the book starts out in such a restrained manner, to the ending that came out of nowhere, in one hell of a rush, it's one of those stories that just gets in. That stays in your mind, becomes hard to put down while reading, and hard to forget afterwards. Partially it's the way that Pen steps out from the shadows of her husband, and over-bearing mother, and her motivation for doing that which gets in. Partially it's the unexpected path her steps lead her down. Mostly it's the idea that the reader is closely following a momentous occasion in the life of a woman who, with increasing confidence, for better or worse, takes control of her own life.
The geography of Perth plays into this feeling of movement, of separation - somewhere between Pen and Derrick's quiet, uneventful life in the Perth Hills and the brash city with its University Campus and night life, Pen changes. Not just her perception of her own life, but her sense of ability, of empowerment. And about then in the book you know that definitely somebody, somewhere is going to get hurt. Who that is, how it happens and who does what is a mystery right up until that out of nowhere ending. And at that point, as a reader you're likely to be just a little bit torn. Whether you liked Pen up until that point, whether you had any sympathy, or even found her compelling, suddenly there's a moral dilemma you're going to have to do a bit of thinking about. Which is exactly what a psychological thriller of this kind should do.
Claustrophobia is the taut, compelling story of a young Perth wife who sets out to protect her husband by stalking his ex-lover, but unexpectedly falls into a passionate affair and a world of lies. In a novel that possesses the dark wit, psychological insight and narrative momentum of a Patricia Highsmith, Tracy Ryan captures the disturbing elements that sometimes lurk beneath the surface of a marriage. The realities of obsessive attachment and social isolation are explored through a deft and thought-provoking look at a complex personality and a plot that twists its page-turning way into our psyche.