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.

27 thoughts on “Jenn Ashworth: A Kind of Intimacy (2009) A Very Noir Character Study

    • Yes, I think you might like it. I can’t say if it’s difficult. It’s not very literary, but everyday spoken language rather… Yes, visit Danielle… She has loads of interesting books… Many “forgotten” authors and new books…

      • I wish it were available on the kindle…It’s easier for me to read in English on the kindle.

        I don’t think I’ve ever met an Annie except at work. She seems to be the kind of persons to whom you can’t say anything innocent without hearing it back twisted. Or you know these persons who always think there is more in your words than what you actually said and take everything personally. A pain to work with.

        • Why is it easier on the kindle? I don’t have one. I like books.
          My last bad experience was at work as well. The guy is decidedly on the hevay side too. He a mean bad liar. He is the type who thinks you fancy him just because you sit on the only empty chair in a meeting room and it happens to be next to him.

          • It’s easier on the kindle because you have an instantaneous dictionary: you put the “mouse” before the word and you can read the definition. Useful for foreigners. And you have the text-to-speach option to improve hearing and pronounciation.
            About your experience. Wow, creepy. I don’t have that kind of problems with men at work, they usually forget I’m a woman until they speak a football metaphor and realize they lost me. Must be my androgyn first name. 🙂

            • I am not sure about the kindle… Not for me. And don’t really need a dictionary… I actually start to suspect my English is getting better than my French. Yeah, he was acreepy fellow, not the only one I’m afraid. I am great magnet for weird people…

  1. I don’t get what all the fuss is about her being fat. I imagined her as chunky/ plump more than anything else, but it’s crucial to the novel as she can’t understand why her skinny neighbour is so attractive to men.

    I loved this book, but then you already know that.

  2. I don’t know why, but reading your review reminds me of Misery.

    I’d love to read this one!! This girl has a ‘great’ personality, seems twisted but oddly fun to know more about her. I can imagine it turns into a movie.

    • True, there might be some resemblance to Misery. I didn’t read it but saw the movie… Yes, I guess A Kind of Intimacy could make a great movie. She is really twisted. And it is darkly comical.

  3. I’m adding this one to my list. The fat part is probably a small detail in one way–it sounds as if the novel could deal with any character who lacked an understanding of others and/or becomes a victim of obsession.

    • You are right, in the end anyone who reads things into other peoples actions and words is like this. But her being obese is important in the novel, it is thematized in an a certain way… Can’t say too much as that would spoil it.

  4. I loved this and am glad you did as well–it was a wonderful character study. I’m surprised the author was criticized for having a character who is obese. To me it just added another dimension to her personality. I never saw her as feeling sorry for herself because of her size, though certainly I think she was at times mistreated because of it and this likely helped shape her attitude and personality. It would make a great movie!

  5. Great review, Caroline. I love character studies like this.

    I also thought of “Misery,” and the Audrey Tautou movie, “He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not.” In the latter, the main character is beautiful and thin, but not quite right.

    Thanks for the author’s link too.

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  8. This book sounds fascinating, intense and powerful! I don’t understand the issue with Annie being a fat woman. She sounds like a complex and intriguing character. I enjoyed your review quite a bit and am now anxious to read Jenn Ashworth’s books.

    • Thanks, Amy, glad you liked the review. The book is really very good, very different and powerful. She is a complex character, yes but I think poeple thought it was politically not correct to choose a fat woman but when you read the book it does make sense.

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  11. Was just looking at some Ruth Rendell reviews – I’ve read them all, but remember far too few! – and saw this review. Picked it up in Waterstones at the start of the year for £3 and knew I’d read good things about it on the blogosphere, so snapped it up. Glad I did now – sounds just my thing! And it’s a few years old now, so perhaps she’ll have added a couple more to her backlist. Moving it up the TBR pile with great speed! Thanks!

    • My pleasure. I hope you’ll like it. It’s still very present after a couple of years, which isn’t the case with many books I read. I read her second novel too, it was good but not as good and then I didn’t follow her anymore. I’ll have to see what else she’s written since then.

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