Simone moved to London to become a journalist, but then she met Paul. Now, she’s about to have his child, and nothing is turning out quite like she planned. Having a small human completely dependent on her for survival is terrifying to Simone, whose family are halfway across the world in Perth. Though he’s her partner and the father of her baby, Simone never fully seems to feel secure with Paul, and sees herself as a houseguest in his apartment at the Barbizon. When another houseguest turns up – Paul’s cousin Rachel – Simone begins to wonder if new motherhood is making her paranoid, or if everything she’s afraid of is true.
This is The Night Village, a tense, literary, domestic thriller by debut writer Zoe Deleuil, out this month from Fremantle Press. Drawing on countless psychological novels involving manipulative or sinister houseguests, Deleuil’s first foray into fiction takes inspiration from Du Maurier (yes, all the times the words ‘my cousin Rachel’ are repeated are most likely deliberate) and the lesser known She Came to Stay by Simone de Beauvoir, for whom the protagonist is named. Unlike du Maurier, however, Deleuil’s writing is slow-paced, and feels more deliberate and contemplative.
There are no spooky mansions or lurking housekeepers (though Simone does repeatedly visit the Museum of Childhood, which in itself makes me think of those eerie porcelain dolls.) Here there is only the real world, and ordinary people – yet the threat that these things and these people pose to a newborn are rendered large and sinister through the eyes of the sleep deprived protagonist. Through Simone’s deep contemplation of the way the world around her is changing, Deleuil skewers the modern world and breaks it down into its component parts, forcing her reader into often uncomfortable situations alongside her characters. Though it’s only a short book, it’s one that will force you to slow down and pay attention as you read.
Deleuil’s characterisation of Paul and Rachel, the two other main characters in the book, is masterful. Neither of them seem cartoonish, and their actions, when described as a list, would seem normal. Yet the way that everything seems to have another motive behind it means that the reader will be questioning things alongside Simone.
Paul, while he could be said to be a typical new Dad who doesn’t quite understand what his partner needs from him, at times seems to be deliberately pushing Simone deeper into her neuroses. The character of the clueless, workaholic, insensitive young dad could easily have become a stereotype in the hands of a lesser writer, particularly when much of the plot focusses on the interactions between Simone and Rachel. But there is nuance here; we are given both glimpses of how Paul and Simon fail each other, and why they were drawn together in the first place. In a psychological thriller of this nature, where characters are everything, this can make or break a book, and Deleuil has excelled at her task.
My one criticism with the book is that the final reveal didn’t feel like it was built up to enough – Simone’s discovery of the truth happens quickly and then the book is over soon after. It would be difficult to discuss here without giving too much away, but suffice to say that having the reveal happen a little earlier, and then seeing the fall out might have given me the deep, du Maurier-esque satisfaction that I craved.
Then again, this is not a Daphne Du Maurier book, it’s a Zoe Deleuil, and it’s pretty excellent in its own right.