Sunday, 23 July 2017

{Reviewed by STELLA}

Catherine Lacey’s The Answers is a riveting observation on faith and love - the traps of devotion in all its many guises - set within an absurdist construct. Mary is out of money, in debt, estranged from her family, and her only friend has disappeared. Struck by a tidal wave of illness she finds solace from her pains with Ed, whose healing therapy - PAKing (Pneuma Adaptive Kinesthesia) - seems to be the only thing saving her from her physical and emotional trauma. Yet there’s a problem - it’s excessively expensive and her job doesn’t even get close to covering her bills let alone the therapy. Her answer lies in a second job: she gains employment as the Emotional Girlfriend, one of the roles in the Girlfriend Experiment (GX). Kurt, a wealthy, emotionally defective actor, wants to find the answers to love and the perfect girlfriend. He rallies together a team of scientists to help find the answers. Along with Mary, there’s Ashley the Angry Girlfriend, a pool of Intimate Girlfriends, and others to cover all the facets of the perfect girlfriend. Kurt thinks he’s in control, but jealousies and unexpected behaviour despite the team’s psychological and chemical interventions make you wonder who is playing who? As Mary becomes more involved with Kurt and goes along with the experiment, the lines between real and pretend blur. Can Mary decipher what she really thinks or has the persona demanded by the GX invaded her everyday world? Is the Angry Ashley obsessively performing or is her obsession a reality? Yet this isn’t just a story about a strange experiment of an egotistical control freak. As the repercussions of the experiment play out, Mary’s latent emotions and denials of her past life pull her back to her childhood and a realisation that her life has become a meaningless escape from hurt and abandonment. Lacey’s previous book, Nobody is Ever Missing, played with the ideas of escape, a woman on the run from responsibility and the dull existence of normality. In The Answers, Mary has been running unsuccessfully towards ‘normal’ all her life. Lacey’s observations of contemporary social constructs with their fascination with faith (albeit an emotional rather than spiritual one) in the guise of enlightenment and therapy, perfection in relationships and delusions of connectedness underpins her characters’ worlds and this wry novel.

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