Magazine article The Spectator

'Nobody Is Ever Missing', by Catherine Lacey - Review

Magazine article The Spectator

'Nobody Is Ever Missing', by Catherine Lacey - Review

Article excerpt

Nobody is Ever Missing Catherine Lacey

Granta, pp.256, £12.99, ISBN: 9781783780877

Nobody Is Ever Missing takes its title from John Berryman's 'Dream Song 29', a poem which I'd always thought related to Berryman's strange sense of guilt over his father's suicide. At the heart of Catherine Lacey's novel there is another suicide that brings with it enormous pain and grief, that of the heroine Elyria's adopted sister Ruby, six years earlier.

This is a novel of extremes -- to put it mildly -- charting Elyria's slide into a derelict state. It is a witty, knowing and lyrical work that takes as its subject the thoughts and feelings of a woman who has suffered more misery than most humans can take.

The bulk of the novel's action takes place in New Zealand, but it could happen anywhere. Elyria has fled New York, a job writing soap operas and a marriage to her dead sister's maths professor on the strength of a casual invitation from a poet called Werner who writes about 'radical loneliness' and believes that 'misery begins in publishing'. On her journey to Werner's home Elyria encounters many characters, both savoury and unsavoury. One woman tells her to have children soon because when they leave it's wonderful -- in fact, widowhood is where true happiness lies. There are chatty truck drivers from whom an invitation to tea means an invitation to sex, which means -- she suspects -- an invitation to be murdered. One of these men calls her 'wifey'. The threat of violence is everywhere. As she places herself in one dangerous situation after another we fear that Elyria's journey itself will be a long-drawn-out suicide. The inner resources that sometimes also escaped Berryman cannot be marshalled. Everything is missing.

Scraps of domestic arguments fly through Elyria's mind as she tries to make sense of a husband who is himself floored by grief over his own mother's suicide. …

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