Friday, 29 April 2016

Judith Wants to be Your Friend by Annie Weir

Reviewer: Ruby Barnes, author of Peril, Dodge, The Baptist, Koobi Fora and the Zombies v. Ninjas series

What we thought: Inside the mind of a stalker is a very strange place to be, but Annie Weir does a great job of conveying Judith’s strange obsessions as quite normal behaviour. This is achieved by a skilful blend of narrative voices and viewpoints.

The book delivers on two alternating timelines about one year apart. The earlier story-line is delivered in third person, past tense and with varying viewpoints. The reader gets to understand how things look from Judith’s perspective as well as that of Chloe, Judith’s object of fascination. Judith’s motivation seems innocent enough – she wants to be Chloe’s friend, to find someone new to fill the vacuum left by someone who has recently run out of her life. Judith’s problem is that she doesn’t pick up on the verbal and non-verbal cues that indicate when a person is interested in another or not. If she gets pushed away, Judith just tries harder to get closer to her target. The situation is further complicated by two other major things going on in Judith’s life. Her mother has Alzheimer’s and Judith is forced by her sister to shoulder some responsibility and become involved in the family scene she detests. The second twist is that Judith’s livelihood has fallen to pieces since her recent best friend fled town. Judith’s clients start to drop her and she is slow to accept the reality of her failing business. Given all the challenges that Judith was facing, I almost felt sympathy for her, but not quite. Something is missing in Judith’s sense of right and wrong, in her interaction with other humans.

The later narrative is first person, present tense and from Judith’s viewpoint. This clearly differentiates it from the earlier thread and so the author can switch between the two without confusion. It also makes the reader sympathetic to Judith’s current situation. She’s under pressure in a new workplace from a bully, but we know that Judith is a wolf in sheep’s clothing and it’s amusing to see how she delivers just deserts. Judith is capable of far more than her supermarket admin job requires. She’s waiting for something better, but exactly what that will be is elusive. Pretty soon Judith has a new crush and she starts to put her energy into becoming part of Joanna’s life, this time with a little more guile. Judith even maintains a relationship with a man, and it appears she’s just somebody trying to rebuild their life after a couple of false starts. It almost seems unfair on Judith when things start to unravel again. Almost.

In Judith’s wilder moments she commits some fairly heinous acts with scant regard for the adverse consequences, short-circuiting her own commonsense and setting herself up for a fall. In a way she is a kind of psychopath, feeling no guilt when others would, having no conscience when bending society’s rules to suit her needs. But Judith isn’t quite as clever as she likes to think. Some of her best laid plans are faulty from the off and it’s no surprise to the reader when she gets de-railed. However, the author maintains a good level of suspense by holding on to the fine details of Judith’s past behaviour until it’s time to tell. Any dismay felt by the reader at knowing the terrible truth is echoed by Judith’s own mortification at being publicly exposed. Although she relentlessly pursues her quarry and will mercilessly avenge any perceived slights, Judith hates to have her control over life rattled by any fuss or bother. When it happens, she doesn’t wait around. Like a predator disturbed during a hunt, Judith will recover and set her sights on fresh prey.

Avoid this if you dislike: the idea that maybe you don’t like some of your so-called friends as much as you think. They might have their own reasons for being in your circle of trust. They might be Judiths.

You’ll enjoy this if you like: taut psychological tales that examine the fine line between friendship and obsession.

Ideal accompaniments: a warm fire and a cosy blanket while the storm rages outside. But make sure the curtains are closed because you never know who might be watching, waiting for the right moment to slip into your life.

Genre: psychological thriller.

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