Review published on June 7, 2018.
Alison Moore is an expert at conjuring up magic from the mundane. In Missing, her fourth novel, we meet Jessie Noon, a translator living quietly in Hawick, a town in the Scottish Borders. Her second husband walked out a year ago, leaving only a message written in the steam on the bathroom mirror. Though Jessie is a mother, she rarely hears from her adult son. Her relationship with her sister Gail is complicated, for reasons that will eventually be illuminated by the flashbacks scattered throughout the narrative.
At first, Jessie’s life appears unremarkable. She looks after her dog and cat, cooks meals in large batches, and writes, translating books she suspects will never be read. But the world won’t quite let her alone. Almost by accident she begins a new relationship with Robert, which seems, to the reader, a disorientating development since his initial approach is awkward and unwelcome. Then there are the mysteries: the unexplained sounds in Jessie’s house, the significant objects that go missing, and the unnerving postcards she receives. The first one reads, simply yet ominously, ‘I’m on my way home’.
It’s clearly significant that Jessie works as a translator; so many pivotal moments in Missing hinge on misinterpretation of some kind. Jessie’s command ‘stay outside’, uttered to Gail’s daughter Eleanor, proves disastrously unclear. In recounting a dream, Jessie unintentionally leads her neighbour to believe she has romantic designs on a teenage boy. A conversation with her parents reveals that a long-held belief about her home – the very reason she has settled in Hawick – is incorrect, the mistaken result of a child’s assumption.
This is a ghost story, and it isn’t. It’s about grief, carrying on, and missed connections. Like much of Moore’s other work, it is concerned with the banality of domestic detail, and peppered with pinches of deadpan humour. (Many of the funniest lines stem from the fact that Jessie’s ex gave their dog the ridiculous moniker ‘The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse’. This leads to sentences that unexpectedly made me laugh out loud, for example: ‘In bed, with The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse weighing down her legs, Jessie checked her phone.’ There’s also a strangely poignant bit of farce involving a displaced bag of frozen peas.)
Missing is certainly a quiet book, and if you hate evasiveness and lack of resolution in a story, then it may be one to avoid. Moore’s is a style that gradually seduces rather than throwing out twists and cliffhangers to keep you glued to the page. Don’t be fooled, though, into thinking this means it is uneventful. The brilliance of Missing lies in the fact that its calm surface conceals vicious barbs.
Blair Rose 4/4
Missing by Alison Moore
Salt 9781784631406 pbk May 2018