Jenn Ashworth: A Kind of Intimacy (2009) A Very Noir Character Study

Annie is morbidly obese, lonely and hopeful. She narrates her own increasingly bizarre attempts to ingratiate herself with her new neighbours, learn from past mistakes and achieve a “”certain kind of intimacy”” with the boy next door. Though Annie struggles to repress a murky history of violence, secrets and sexual mishaps her past is never too far behind her, finally shattering her denial in a compelling and bloody climax. A quirky and darkly comic debut – giving readers a glimpse of a clumsy young woman who has too much in common with the rest of us to be written off as a monster.

I discovered A Kind of Intimacy thanks to a review on Danielle’s blog. It was also among her top 12 of 2010 and it was also one of the favourite reads of Guy Savage who also reviewed it.

I already jokingly “said” to Danielle in a comment that her top 2010 might become my top 2011 and,  yes, this book is certainly a candidate as it is astonishingly good. Very dark, absolutely fascinating, engrossing, and very well executed. While starting it I had forgotten Jenn Ashworth was compared to Ruth Rendell but the association immediately occurred to me as well.

A Kind of Intimacy is told by the main protagonist, obese, deluded Annie herself. She is what you call an unreliable narrator. The reader feels that something is wrong from the beginning, too many hints and little details tear apart the picture of perfection that Annie wants to draw for our and her own sake. These interfering details, as I would call them, make this a creepy read. Uncanny and creepy. It is not so much that we judge Annie as that we wish to never meet someone like her as she seems capable of doing really harmful things.

At the beginning of the novel Annie moves into a new neighbourhood. One of the first people she meets is Neil who has a natural capacity for being kind, which proves to be fatal in this relationship, as Annie doesn’t see things the way they are but the way she wants them to be. Unknown of Neil or anyone else, she is convinced, he is her soul-mate and the only thing that needs doing is getting rid of Lucy, his skinny and pretty girlfriend.

What starts like a comedy soon develops into something much darker. Bits and pieces of Annie’s past are revealed slowly. A miserable childhood, an odd marriage, a baby girl who seems to have disappeared and some really dodgy things Annie does to try to get “A Kind of Intimacy” despite her being revoltingly obese. The further you read the more you will hope to never meet anyone like Annie.

As deluded and extreme as she may seem, Annie is a character I am all too familiar with which added another dimension to my reading. However odd this may seem, I have met more than one Annie in my life. They were not always as dangerous and they were always male… Call me Neil… It’s really scary what some people can interpret into your tiniest actions.

I read somewhere that Jenn Ashworth was criticized for chosing an obese woman as her protagonist… I see Annie as a distortion, a caricature and as such the obesity did work for me. Unlike one critic I read, I did feel sorry for Annie. All through the web of lies and deceptions we catch glimpses of a very lonely and hurt soul.

Jenn Ashworth is a gifted writer. If you have ever tried to write yourself you will know that voice and point of view are always very challenging. Annie’s voice does sound so right. There is not one wrong note in this symphony of lies and self-deception. A Kind of Intimacy is one of the best character studies I have ever read. Fascinating, creepy and compulsively readable. I am sure this book will appeal to readers of crime and general fiction alike.

Just one aside, Jenn Ashworth won a prize for Best Blog Content in 2008. Here is the link to her site.