Let's suppose your daughter committed suicide several years ago. An upturned canoe on Georgian Bay is found, a letter is left, but there is no body. Then let's suppose you are in Ireland on vacation (a vacation you were supposed to take with your recent ex-husband to celebrate your anniversary) and, sitting in a pub feeling melancholy, you glance toward the window and, wham, you see your daughter walking past.
What would you do?
Well, if you are Marcy Taggart, the 50-year-old protagonist of Joy Fielding's 23rd book, you take chase. "Inside a voice was screaming, 'You aren't dead, are you, Devon? You're here. I know you are. And whatever it takes, however long it takes, I'm going to find you.' "
Now You See Her is a psychological thriller. Fielding plays the sanity-versus-insanity card with aplomb: Marcy's mother was manic-depressive and committed suicide; Devon (Marcy's daughter) was manic-depressive and may have committed suicide, and, throughout Now You See Her, it's not clear whether this gene has actually passed over Marcy, as she'd like you to believe.
There are times during her frantic struggle to find the girl she thinks is Devon when Marcy's sanity quickly becomes questionable. Her behaviour is erratic. She has two fast affairs, one with Vic, a fellow tour-group companion from the United States, and one with a young Irish barkeeper, Liam. Marcy wreaks havoc on a young nanny's life, her hotel room is trashed and she innocently gets into a car with a man she picks up in a bar who intends to rape her.
In fact, the entire scenario - the set-up, the plot, the characters - is unbelievable. And it doesn't make matters any better that Marcy has been known to see her dead daughter before, in crowds, at the shopping mall, on the street; "This time is different," Marcy says to her ex-husband on the phone. Marcy complains about being 50 (as if that is ancient!), yet she often acts like a naive 10-year-old.
But, sigh, I guess it does make for an exciting book. And to Fielding's credit, she does develop the psychological uncertainty slowly, carefully and subtly. Marcy's emotional chaos doesn't necessarily have to be a form of insanity. It could also be grief, an all-encompassing mother-grief. After all, she has lost her daughter.
Joy Fielding is successful. There is no question of that. She is an international bestselling author. She has published 23 books. She gives her readers immense thrills and wild rides. She piles on excitement. However, I wonder if it's possible to do all that and still create characters who could inhabit the real world? These characters are one-dimensional: Their motives are suspect, their reactions are ignorant, they seem to be robotic versions of themselves. Fielding's previous book, The Wild Zone, posed the same difficulty for me: The characters were stereotypes.
Peppering the novel with the history of Ireland, Fielding creates a kind of stop-and-go rhythm. One minute we are rushing through the streets of Ireland, frantically searching for Devon, the next minute we get a detailed lesson about the history of a building we just passed. Even the cab-drivers lay it on thick: "The years between 500 and 800 AD are often referred to as the golden age. … Ireland became one of the largest centres of Christianity in Europe." His history lesson continues for three pages.
A roller-coaster ending on a cliff over Roaringwater Bay, where everything is, of course, not as it seems, sends Marcy almost over the edge (literally).
Now You See Her has so much potential. Fielding has chosen interesting psychological ideas to contemplate: reality versus allusion, sanity versus insanity. Unfortunately, she doesn't quite pull it off. She doesn't give herself, her characters or her readers enough credit.
Michelle Berry is the author of three books of short fiction and four novels. Her most recent books are I Still Don't Even Know You and This Book Will Not Save Your Life.