Wednesday, March 11, 2009
Back to the Coast, by Saskia Noort
Saskia Noort's first novel (her second to be translated into English from the original Dutch), Back to the Coast, is a paranoid thriller that eases the reader down from the scattered normal life of singer (for a rock/soul cover band) and single mother Maria into the maelstrom of psychotic violence. The book has some of the pacing of Hitchcock's or Chabrol's psychological thrillers, but resolutely from the point of view of the female narrator, Maria herself. Maria has just had an abortion, unable to cope with two children and a depressed boyfriend she's just kicked out of her house, and she starts getting nasty threats referring to the abortion and her lifestyle. The police can't or won't do anything, and when the threats accelerate she flees from her home, going with her children to stay with her semi-estranged sister, who lives in their parents' former boarding house on the shore, a house Maria remembers with no fondness as the site of her mother's insanity and her father's indifference. But the terror follows her there, and Maria begins to suspect her brother-in-law, who has walked out on Maria's sister, has been stalking and threatening her. Though the reader may suspect what's actually going on long before Maria does, Noort effectively tightens the straitjacket of her narrative in the second half of the book, after carefully portraying Maria's life and character in the first half. Noort's second book, The Dinner Club, is an original suburban thriller, but Back to the Coast uses family life in a more sinister way, as an effective metaphor for ties that bind in unhealthy ways. The conclusion is a bit abrupt, and the final intervention comes from an unexpected direction, but Back to the Coast is a compelling narrative of both real and paranoid threats and of the bonds and the damages created by families.