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Metro Book Chat: Stalker’s tale of gender relations

Obsession: The main character in Consent messes with the lives of his female victims PICTURE: ALAMY


by Leo Benedictus (Faber)


AT A time when the headlines overflow with testimony to the ruin wrought by toxic masculinity, it takes a bold — or perhaps foolhardy — novelist to put us inside the mind of a stalker.

But Leo Benedictus goes for broke with this disturbing page-turner about an anonymous, self-styled ‘researcher’ who uses a cash windfall to maintain files on dozens of unsuspecting women, starting with a hairdresser using her phone on the bus.

He zeroes in most closely on Frances, a management consultant suspended from work after allegations of fraud — an email smear concocted by our narrator, who sits back and observes the domino-effect fallout.

The queasy set-up offers an undeniable frisson of black comedy, partly because the narrator is so implacably deadpan in the face of his wildly escalating misdeeds, as casual eavesdropping slides into surveillance-van stakeouts.

But what’s funniest — and most biting — is the book’s unexpected satire of gender relations. Perversely, the narrator’s monitoring of Frances highlights how unfairly she’s treated by her male boss (whom she can’t help suspecting of stitching her up).

A bold storyteller: Leo Benedictus

It’s part of the novel’s treacherous seduction that you could see the narrator’s lethal pursuit of the men in Frances’s life as a kind of righteous vengeance — except, of course, it’s simply another element of his ardent will to manipulate.

At times almost unreadably horrible — one scene in particular had me wincing — Consent is thought-provoking as well as shocking, with a teasing parallel between stalking and the business of fiction writing itself. It’s a high-wire act, for sure but one that doesn’t trivialise the issue at the novel’s obsidian heart.

The Verdict

A compulsive dark comedy that entertains and unnerves in equal measure.

The Hoarder

by Jess Kidd (Canongate)


A BELLIGERENT old man, a sprawling house and a care assistant called Maud, who counts various Catholic saints among her friends, combine in this second, supernatural-flavoured caper from the lavishly talented author of 2016’s gothic murder mystery Himself.

When Maud, tasked with caring for the old man, finds a photograph among all the clutter featuring a young girl with her face burnt out, she is certain the clue to the girl’s identity lies behind one of the house’s many locked doors and starts to investigate.

The various hauntings and otherworldly voices sometimes feel more vivid and fully rounded than the real world in this eccentric crime thriller from this stand-out writer.


by Emma Glass (Bloomsbury Circus)


IF YOU’RE in the market for challenging fiction that disrupts narrative norms — as the success of Eimear McBride suggests many of us are — you could do worse than this provocatively outlandish stream of consciousness set in the aftermath of a sexual assault.

Lifting devices from myth and fable, Glass (a nurse) tells the story of a teenage girl whose literally peach-like body is violated by — how else to put this? — an anthromorphised bunch of sausages. Yes, sausages.

Seesawing between twee and terrifying, it’s a gutsy, discomfiting experiment, even if you’re left with the sense that the book’s power comes less from Glass’s creative gamble than from the built-in seriousness of her subject.

Book Chat

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