cover image Unquiet


E. Saxey. Titan, $16.95 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-1-80336-446-9

Saxey’s unnerving full-length debut (after the collection Lost in the Archives) is a hothouse flower of a book: delicate and undeniably beautiful, but perhaps a little forced. More gothic than all-out horror, with ambience that’s more akin to Charlotte Perkins Gilman than Shirley Jackson, the tale traces the psychology of an unreliable narrator as she descends into paranoia. Judith Sachs is a middle-class Jewish woman in 1893 London whose life is upended, first by her father’s death and then by the disappearance of her sister’s fiancé, Samuel Silver, in a flood. He has been presumed dead for nearly a year when he appears one night just beyond the Sachs’s garden, walking onto a half-frozen lake and plunging through. From that improbable moment, Judith’s reportage is in question. She takes Samuel in, dries him off, and flails through increasingly desperate efforts to investigate his apparent amnesia while hiding his presence, primarily from the live-in maid Lucy. Though atmospheric and rich in allusion, the pace drags; mysteries are too few and nuggets of fact emerge too slowly to sustain readers’ curiosity. Far more fascinating is Judith’s alienated experience of gender, which lurks beneath the surface of most scenes. The narrative succeeds most as an eerie, tragic tone poem. (July)