Jo Baker’s current books were metafictions: Longbourn, the story of the servants who are barely noted in Pride and Prejudice; and A Country Road, a Tree, following Samuel Beckett’s existence in wartime France. Both are brave and smart novels finding new worlds inside the shadows of the literary canon. The Body Lies has no apparent precise intertext, but it sits in uneasy, hard relation to contemporary famous fiction.
We start, conventionally enough, with an invitation to take aesthetic pride inside the dying of a pretty younger lady, lying dusted through snow underneath a beech tree on a moonlit night time. Then we flip the page to satisfy the unnamed narrator, who’s closely pregnant, being assaulted by using an extraordinary man outdoor her London flat. Afterward, the toddler is OK, she says, so she’s OK, and even though the midwife doesn’t agree with her, her companion thinks she ought to “allow it cross” and pass on. And then, 10 pages in, we bypass 3 years and start once more – disturbed, looking ahead to a few explanations – as the narrator begins a new job teaching innovative writing in a northern college and caring for her little one while her associate keeps his faculty-coaching career in London.
There is a few appropriate campus satire: considering one of the writing professors is on studies go away and the other off ill with pressure, our heroine finds that she is the innovative writing branch. She needs to teach college students who’ve requested lodging for special circumstances even as declining to share the nature of the occasions to be accommodated. She is needed to attend induction periods added on the end of the year’s coaching, to carry chairs from one decrepit room to some other for conferences and to work all night in a hopeless gesture toward increasingly weirder bureaucratic demands. Meanwhile, lower back on the faraway rural cottage where the narrator and her son are residing, 3-yr-antique Sam sees a person looking them in the dusk and the neighbors warn her to get a canine. There is not any phone reception. A grieving and harassed antique female wanders the lanes and the farmer at the quit of the road is adversarial: some thing is wrong, but neither we nor she knows what.
As writers come to be – to cite a former university colleague of mine – “the grey squirrels of English departments”, it’s not surprising that the one-of-a-kind dynamics of the writing workshop should locate their way into fiction. Baker’s model is more direct and plot-driven than Rachel Cusk’s in Outline, however, both are interested in the drama of fictions and egos achieved in weekly ritual. Baker’s students include a legal professional writing prevalent misogynist crime fiction, probably associated with that useless body, with traumatic enjoy; a young girl mining her personal now not very exciting beyond; and a troubled posh boy provoking everybody via writing as a substitute brilliantly about the workshop. Presenting these portions inside the novel is a loop of metafiction that could ground a less assured creator. The students are all aggressive, worried that their instruct is underqualified, that her judgment is unreliable, that she is too vintage or too younger, too posh or too terrible, too attractive or no longer horny sufficient, to understand them as deeply as they have got paid to be understood. The dynamics of self-revelation, attention‑looking for and self-righteousness swirl dangerously, with attractions and repulsions from outside the classroom seeping into the scholars’ writing and analyzing of each different’s work. Several of the male characters suppose plenty about sexual violence, however, are also obvious fabulists, so who is aware of what is proper, what’s self-fable, what is said to impress and what is legitimately fictional? Every so often the narrative revisits that useless frame, which may be alternatively close to the narrator’s residence.
When the denouement comes, it is nicely timed to experience both shocking and inevitable: early sufficient for pleasurable decision afterward and late enough to preserve the reader up long into the night. There is violence, however, there’s additionally a very contemporary interrogation of violent fiction. What were you staying up late for, precisely?
The Body Lies sets itself large demanding situations: that fragmentary narrative, together with an reputable criticism and some bureaucratic emails; the issue of the usage of violence as a story device even as wondering the politics of using violence as a story tool; the venture of mixing the satire of the campus novel with the excessive drama of the thriller. Baker is a creator who can make it all work. Beyond the doubtful fun of the chase, the delight of reading this novel is seeing writerly ambition fulfilled.