Tom Stone, skinnyish, fortyish, English, is madly in love with his wife Ann, an Australian in self-imposed exile in London. Pushing forty and expecting their first child, they buy their first, semi-derelict house in Hackney. They believe this is their settled future, despite Tom’s stalling career and their spiralling money troubles. But Ann becomes convinced she’s being shadowed by a local homeless man whose presence seems like a terrible omen.
As her pregnancy progresses she spends hours cleaning and reorganising the house, and sits up all night talking with a new feverish passion. As their child grows, so too does Tom’s sense of an impending, nameless threat. Their home appears beset with vermin, smells and strange noises. On the verge of losing the house, Tom makes a decision that he hopes will save their lives.
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Australian photographer Clare meets Andi, a Berlin teacher on a street corner. Bumping into him the next day is the coincidence (or is it?) that leads Clare to accompany him back to his flat. Love is not in the air as such, but there is something intense that draws her to this private man. All is well.
The past lurks threateningly throughout this book however, Berlin’s past – the secrecy, sorrow and bleakness is never far from the surface. Andi’s past also penetrates the tentative happiness of this couple, and gradually things begin to fall apart.
The beauty of this writing is in the ability of the young first time author to elicit feelings of distaste, pity, empathy and loathing for both characters. There is a cruelty and intense kindness from both. The power dynamics swoop and change constantly, there is tension as well as a sense of peace with Clare’s situation. It would be a shame to give away too much about the plot, but I can say that the title does play on the Stockholm syndrome– but with a twist!