Monday, 14 May 2018
Missing by Alison Moore
Alison Moore's latest little gem (less than 200 pages) follows Jessie Noon for a few weeks in winter - from late November to the start of January - as she goes about her life in the Scottish Borders town of Hawick. It's a life which feels strangely cut off and isolated, from neighbours, friends and family. For the past year she's been living alone with just a cat and a bizarrely named dog for company, after her (second) husband walked out one morning leaving a parting message in the steam on the bathroom mirror. As the story progresses, Jessie starts up a new relationship, tries to get in touch with her grown-up son, who she hasn't heard from in years, and to improve her relationship with her parents and elder sister, but something is missing. She's haunted and weighed down by a dreadful event from her past, which leaves her wandering around in a fog - able to concentrate on the tiny, mundane everyday things immediately around her but unable to see a bigger picture.
Jessie's story unfolds in two ways. As we follow her day to day (frankly quite dull) routine, Jessie slips, stream of consciousness-like, into random reminiscences brought about by the things she sees. These chapters are interspersed by sections set back in 1985, as events move relentlessly towards the tragedy which has shadowed Jessie and her family since.
The writing is wordy in the way that Moore's books often are - not in length but in playing with meanings. The power of words is central to the tale; a misunderstood instruction led to the dreadful event which plagues Jessie's life - ironic as she's a translator by trade, and spends hours, if not days, mulling over the subtle meanings of words, trying to find an exact English match for each one.
So I found myself, of course, thinking about 'missing' and all its various forms - a missing person, missing someone who's no longer in your life, missing your bus, missing your step, missing a turning, a near miss, or just missing out on life, as Jessie is. Her life has been irrevocably changed by a child going missing, and other people disappear from her life with seeming regularity, but smaller things also get lost - a jigsaw piece, items of jewellery, a jar of marmalade - and perhaps the finding of them towards the book's end marks a turning point in Jessie's life.
There's also a feel of things and people being in limbo - waiting for some dramatic revelation or event to give meaning and purpose to them.
In part, it's a book in which little seems to happen but beneath that superficial appearance so much does. Moore's words hold the reader, building atmosphere and emotion, but then in a tender, heart-warming or -breaking moment there'll be a burst of unexpected humour to flip the mood around.
It may be short, but has plenty to get your (literary) teeth into and certainly left me with plenty to mull over.
Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Salt Publishing
Genre - Adult literary fiction