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Laura Sims' novel about the despair of infertility

Laura Sims. Photo/Jen Lee/Supplied

Grief, envy and obsession are explored in Laura Sims’ precise and perceptive first novel.

You’d pick up this slim, cool-looking number and think it was a thriller – another one! – about a scarily unhinged broad. And there is that. But Looker packs much more in, plumbing pain, loss and envy, and the way they can curdle a life. It’s confronting and invigorating, a fine portrait of a psyche on the edge.

“The Professor” is the woman on the rack. Her marriage has disintegrated after years of failed fertility treatments. She’s left alone in the apartment that was meant to be a family home, haunted by the room set aside for baby.

Macro alias: ModuleRenderer

Gradually, that room takes on a second role as a compartment of her mind, a cuckoo echo chamber of grief and bitterness. At the same time, The Professor gives her obsession with a neighbour increasingly free rein. The neighbour’s an actress, a stunning one, which of course speaks to the novel’s fascination with surveillance and smoke and mirrors. More importantly, the actress has three kids and a happy marriage.

Laura Sims is a poet and in this, her first novel, each page is chopped into short passages, some of which could function as stand-alone poems: “I am sick to death of men,” begins one. “Buzzing, angry men. Hot liquid men. Men wanting sex. Men wanting to touch and be touched …”

Although there’s plenty of room for beauty in the writing, the quick-fire structure ramps up the pace, and there is an exciting precision and perceptiveness at work.

I’ve never seen IVF described in quite the way it is here: “There I sat, stabbing my belly and thigh. Alternating between the left and right sides every day. Feeling the medicine burn as it spread, gritting my teeth against the pain.”

Exactly, I wanted to say. Exactly.

Sims’ version of a twist in the tale is that the book itself becomes an obsession. By the end, you’re not too bothered what happens to The Professor – she’s that diabolical – but you won’t be able to look away.

Looker, by Laura Sims (Hachette, $29.99)

This article was first published in the March 9, 2019 issue of the New Zealand Listener.