Missing. We use the word missing to mean both a feeling – I am missing you – and a state – My keys are always going missing.They are connected, of course. In Alison Moore’s new novel both uses are in evidence. Jessie has mislaid just about everything, and everyone, and she misses them: earrings, wedding ring, and other everyday objects, but also people. She has no close friends and has lost two husbands, a son and a niece.
A summary of (some of) the plot
Jessie works as a freelance translator, based at home just north of the border in Hawick. At the start of the novel Jessie (45) attends a conference for translators in London. She makes no meaningful connection with the other participants, or the content of the workshops, and one feels that there is more to this than her ears being blocked. Soon she is making the long trek home where the dog and cat wait for her.
In the house where she has been living for 13 years she picks up the rather desultory life she has been living. The dog, named The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, has been left with Jessie by her second husband on his departure the year before. He has disappeared after leaving a message in the steam on the bathroom mirror in the condensation. There are unexplained noises in the house, the door of the spare room keeps opening, neither the dog nor the cat will enter, a window cracks. She wonders if she has a ghost. And she receives brief unsigned postcards announcing that someone is on their way back to her.
She meets Robert, who is described as an outreach worker. This seems an appropriate partner for someone as distant from the world as Jessie, but, as their relationship develops, he is revealed to be as detached as she is. He too disappears.
In flashback, and in Jessie’s mind too, she constantly revisits the events and the place where the worst disappearance of all took place.
My reactions to Missing
Alison Moore is excellent at creating a rather disturbing atmosphere. Things aren’t quite right. People aren’t who they seem to be. Jessie finds it hard to engage strongly with the world. Here is the opening paragraph that sets everything slightly askew.
Jessie cut her old wedding dress down to size, hemmed it just below the knee, and dyed it blue. It made a serviceable frock. (1)
As we follow Jessie through the next few days we read a number of details of her life; where Will left her the message; how she began using her own name again; her relationship with her sister and brother-in-law; where the animals sleep and so on.
What we do not get until the final few pages are any definitive explanation, clues, or unravelling of what is happening now and in the past. Even her occupation, translator, provides no certainties and always allows for many meanings and possibilities.
It seems that Jessie’s life is on hold, her ties to the past are all compromised (son, niece, sister, parents, husbands) and relationships in the present go wrong: Robert, her neighbour who suddenly doesn’t want to speak to her any more.
Life is like this, I remind myself, not clear. Disappearances are sometimes explained, but not all. Relationships fade away. The ghost, it seems, is probably not a ghost, but it just may have been.
I enjoyed the writing, the communication of a character who is lost, almost alienated, alone, parts of her life missing. The rather spooky edge to the writing is very effective.
Salt Publishing recently asked readers to help them by buying one book. I was glad to support this excellent publisher and this was my choice. I have already read The Lighthouse (2012), The Pre-War House and other stories (2013),He Wants (2014) and Death and the Seaside (2016). There is a murkiness, strangeness to all these, and a sense that not all has been clarified. She is an excellent writer. The Lighthouse was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize.
Missing by Alison Moore, published in 2018 by Salt Publishing. 176 pp
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