Like most of the known universe, I read (and enjoyed!) Gone Girl. But I think Jenn Ashworth’s A Kind of Intimacy is a better dark, disturbing sort of book. Gone Girl was the portrait of two very unpleasant personalities twining around each other and getting what they deserved in the end. But A Kind of Intimacy shows, bit by unraveling bit, what happens when a sociopath wanders into the lives of perfectly nice, ordinary people.
A real mess, is what.
The book opens with Annie leaving her former apartment, scene of an unknown unpleasantness, to make a fresh start with her beloved cat. Right away, there’s an awkwardness: her neighbor Neil believes she’s moving in with a husband and daughter, but Annie’s alone. Are the husband and daughter coming later? Are they living in London for now? Did the daughter die? Was the husband abusive? Did either of them ever exist at all? Annie’s stories change depending on whose friendship and sympathy she wants to elicit. The weird part is that, while she’s telling her different stories, she really seems to believe them herself.
Soon — in fact, immediately — Annie notices a special bond between herself and Neil. The fact that he doesn’t seem to notice anything of the sort, and is living with his girlfriend Lucy (who doesn’t like Annie at all) is only a minor obstacle. The thin wall between their homes is not a barrier, it’s a way of feeling closer as she listens to their conversations and their sex in the shower, and makes plans for the future. Meanwhile, she enlists the sympathy of as many people in the neighborhood as she can. It isn’t all of them.
This book was fascinating. Ashworth lets Annie’s history come out in bits and pieces, without anything ever being a giant shocking reveal. (It’s so refreshing to read a book that doesn’t have a ding-dang TWIST in it.) The most interesting part is the way we can see through Annie’s layers of deception and self-deception, the way we can pick up on clues from what the neighbors say or from external sources, and find some version of the truth (which, to be fair, is shocking enough.) All the while, Annie is caught up in her own story and doesn’t see the creepiness. This isn’t just true about Annie, either. The neighbors themselves all have some self-image they’re projecting, and others may see them differently than they see themselves. Annie, the sociopath, is just the most extreme version of this.
I loved the way Annie was always reading self-help books. So many of those are about just this: projecting some image of yourself that others will see. It’s as if Annie is trying to learn how to be a human.
Of course, all of us are learning how to be human. But the title of the book clues us in to Annie’s behavior. She’s constantly searching for intimacy, but she can’t experience it. She tries love, sex, friendship, motherhood, owning a pet, and more, and nothing satisfies her. Ashworth doesn’t use her emotional void as an excuse for her destructive personality — nothing could justify that. But she lets us see it, in the gaps between all the lies.
This was a terrific book, tense, gripping, interesting, and so well-written. I got completely caught up in Annie’s voice. A great book for relaxing with… if you can relax.