cover image OK, Mr. Field

OK, Mr. Field

Katharine Kilalea. Crown/Duggan, $25 (192p) ISBN 978-0-525-57363-0

Kilalea’s striking, singular debut constructs an eerie world of replicas, repetitions, and doubles that contrasts the utopian ideals of a modernist house with the irreversibly damaged soul who inhabits it. Narrator Mr. Field is close to inhuman, a lethargic obsessive recovering from a traumatic injury that ends his career as a concert pianist. He retires to one of three replicas of a modernist masterpiece, Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye, in Cape Town, South Africa. Perched on a cliff overlooking the ocean, the house is a “grand white box... rising from the rocks on its thin white stilts as if signifying, albeit tenuously, the victory of architecture over nature.” Meanwhile, a developer begins construction on a fanciful housing project next door, a “tower of cowsheds” rising up into the clouds, as Mr. Field’s life and home fall into disrepair. Mr. Field’s wife, Mim, vanishes, leaving behind cryptic notes about the sea; the house’s windows fall out and weeds encroach; and Mr. Field hears the voice of the villa’s former occupant in his head, then tirelessly stalks her in real life. The novel is as opaque as its central character, but Kilalela maintains a balance between formal control and the irrational mystery of a man who is a “stranger to [him]self.” The result is a disorienting and enthralling descent into one man’s peculiar malaise. Agent: Anna Webber, United Agents. (July)