New Fiction June 2004

In the Dark

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Here, as in Azzopardi's dazzling debut novel, The Hiding Place, a narrator's subjective version of the truth wonderfully twists and shades reality. In The Hiding Place the narrator was limited in understanding because she was a child, which occasionally gave the reader the satisfaction of knowing more than the character. In this novel the narrator is a homeless woman both fierce and pitiful, her "grandfather's age" and, by her own unreliable admission, "not right in the head," a liar and a thief. Azzopardi has made her perfectly ambiguous: although sympathetic, she sometimes takes us for a ride. From childhood she slips insecurely—her name keeps changing, as do her caretakers and even one of her physical features—along the fringe of a harsh world in which the weak must fend for themselves and selfishness nearly always swamps love. Azzopardi skillfully sets up and reveals secrets, though the plot staggers under a few too many coincidences, and the miraculously consistent voice she achieved in The Hiding Place sometimes wavers here, as if she is occasionally pulling back to make sure readers know what's what. But we're better off when Azzopardi keeps us in the dark. There she creates images so vivid that they leave their silhouettes behind her readers' eyes, and the ugliness of the world becomes gorgeous and haunting—although no less horrifying—in her rendering.

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