The title, In Search of Solace, suggests a quest novel and, indeed, Jacob Little does set out to find both the woman he knew as Solace, as well as the comfort and consolation of discovering the answer to the question of who he is. But Jacob is a long way from the traditional hero: a shadowy figure who, consistent with his own theory of identity as:
not something we choose for ourselves, nor … Something that grew organically as we got older. It was something gifted to us. By others … as a kind of malleable gloop that could be manipulated by the people around us; never fixed, but changing with every situation and circumstance (p 172-173),
is revealed to the reader through the perceptions of the other, more solid, characters. I liked the idea of exploring a protagonist from the outside in, and that notion of identity as something forced upon us by other people is consistent with the psychoanalytic notion of projective identification in which we experience ourselves as thinking, feeling and acting in ways that don’t actually belong to us. But I wasn’t convinced that the omniscient narrator speaking directly to the reader in meta-fictional asides was either necessary or helpful:
Although I can recognise the humour in such passages, I found the author’s presence more intrusive and distracting than the quirky style of This Is the Water which I reviewed here recently, and didn’t feel any connection with the narrative until about a third of the way through. I imagine my alienation could be intended to reflect Jacob’s existential malaise, but I can get enough of that from within my own head, thank you very much, and look for something else in fiction.
Committed to reading to the end, I was relieved when I could spend time with the younger female characters who were beautifully realised in all their contradictions and confusions: Christian fundamentalist and amateur detective, ten-year-old Lizzy/Max and sixteen-year-old Lucy on the brink of discovering her sexuality. If you’re curious about the enigma of identity and like the idea of a narrator who wants to “inject some fizz into omniscience” (p18) by playing a scene backwards as if it were a film, you might love this novel. If, like me, you prefer something that’s less self-consciously different, come back tomorrow for my review of Alison Moore’s He Wants.
Thanks to Sceptre for my review copy of In Search of Solace which is published in the UK today.