cover image Pet


Catherine Chidgey. Europa, $18 trade paper (336p) ISBN 978-1-6094-5930-7

New Zealander Chidgey (Remote Sympathy) examines the consequences of grief in her layered and suspenseful latest. In 2014, Justine visits her father, Neil, who has dementia, at an Auckland nursing home. The nurse caring for him bears a striking resemblance to Mrs. Price, Justine’s former schoolteacher. This coincidence precipitates a narrative leap to 1984, where most of the novel takes place. Twelve-year-old Justine, who has epilepsy, is in her final year at a Catholic primary school in Wellington. She’s recently lost her mother to cancer and lives alone with her alcohol-dependent father. At school, Justine’s classmates vie for the attention of the charismatic and capricious Mrs. Price, though she becomes one of the teacher’s pets. Tensions mount after Mrs. Price first begins an affair with Neil, which Justine doesn’t appreciate, and then harnesses the students’ xenophobia to scapegoat Justine’s friend Amy Fong, who is of Chinese descent, for a series of thefts at the school. As Justine navigates the dark corners of adult authority, the plot accelerates toward a surprising and tragic denouement involving Mrs. Price, Amy, and Justine. Chidgey satisfies and horrifies in equal measure. (Aug.)

This review has been updated to reflect changes that were made in the finished copy of the book.