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Good Reads Review: Nobody Is Ever Missing by Catherine Lacey

A book I've been meaning to read for a long time, I was first recommended Catherine Lacey's debut novel at university. This novel has been renowned for the stream-of-consciousness approach to writing, and considering the subject matter that the blurb presented I was particularly excited to delve into this book as inspiration for a story I'm working on.

Following the adventures of Elyria, who hops on a plane to New Zealand and leaves her husband and her life in New York, the novel takes the form of a journey across the country where she meet strangers, gets entangled in their lives, and starts to delve into her own struggles with her own life and marriage.

This novel has been incredibly difficult to read and review. On one hand, I admire it immensely from a technical perspective; Lacey's style of writing is indeed impeccable and the language she is able to convey can be both evocative and haunting at times. As Elyria makes her journey across New Zealand, you feel every emotion she feels, you delve into every single nuance of her thinking, and become part of a subjective experience that few books can convey.

The book is also an intricate analysis of both depression, and of someone who is missing direction in their life and isn't sure whether to even try to find it, or is unsure of what even finding it would look like, and if it is even worth it. It's a very visceral, raw experience, which is all conveyed superbly.

But when it comes to the actual enjoyment as a reader, this book is a slog. If I could sum up this book in one word, it would be ennui. Elyria makes her way through the book not knowing what she wants, revisiting a past trauma but not expounding on it, endlessly faffing over her husband and how much she doesn't get on with him, and how her life boils down to something of a convenience that they got married.

While I get this is essentially part of the point of the book, this ennui permeates across the entire story, with almost little to no change come it's conclusion. Because Elyria is so indecisive, the reader struggles almost to an absurd degree. Elyria isn't a very sympathetic character, her troubles almost come across as 'first world problems' at times, and as a reader I began to tire of her lack of perspective, nor willingness to break out of this chomotose state. As a result, you really don't get much enjoyment or nuance out of the book, and Lacey's message can get lost behind it.

Don't get me wrong, analysing unreliable narrators like this can often be really compelling! You only have to look at works like Charles Webb's The Graduate or J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye, both of which have protagonists who either are very unlikeable or unreliable, but still keep the readers attention on the page through going through a myriad of highs, lows, and everything inbetween on their many journeys. The problem in this particular case is that Elyria doesn't go through much to any sort of progression at any point in the book. At the end of it all, it made it a tough reading experience for me, in the wrong sort of way.

Overall, while Nobody is Ever Missing brings a lot of interesting techniques for writers to observe and analyse, and some readers may find the appeal in this character and I do understand that the ennui is a main point of the book, as an overall experience it wasn’t for me.



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