You see that wave of what is currently hot? That gleaming zeitgeist machine? That trend that everyone will be following soon? What you probably won’t see is me anywhere nearby. To (slightly mis)quote the much-missed Douglas Adams I’m so unhip it’s a wonder my bum doesn’t fall off. (This is also my weight-loss strategy…). Take the whole psychological thriller genre, for example – I read Gone Girl about two years after everyone else and I still haven’t got round to Girl on the Train. I enjoy this kind of story – I’m very fond (if fond is the right word) of an unreliable narrator – but I keep being distracted by shiny post-apocalypses and warts-and-all historical fiction. I’m also slightly worried by the fact that, in most of the books I’ve come across, the unreliable narrator is female. I mean, I’m sure the male equivalent exists but the most popular titles give us women we can’t quite trust even as they appear to be in terrible danger. I don’t have a real problem with this but I’d like to think there is a new trend coming with unreliable male narrators in psychological thrillers…
In Ross Armstrong’s The Watcher our narrator, Lilly, is both female and, it soon appears, pretty unreliable. She lives with her husband, a writer called Aiden, in a swish new apartment block within sight of the areas still in need of ‘gentrification’. A keen birdwatcher, Lilly watches her neighbours in both the upmarket and lower-rent buildings, giving them names and back-stories but when a woman from the soon to be demolished estates is found dead she starts to become obsessed with finding the killer. As I said it quickly becomes clear that Lilly is often happy with telling less than the truth but there are still plenty of surprises in the story. Because the story is told purely from Lilly’s point of view there is a surprisingly pleasing feeling of panic and paranoia – we feel her panic but can enjoy it because we know we are noy actually Lilly, we are just temporarily in her head.
If you like psychological thrillers then give this one a try. It is a gripping read while we are waiting for those fragile-minded male narrators to come along.