Doubting what you see is a very odd experience. And doubting what you remember is also a pretty odd experience, because some memories come with a very compelling sense of truth about them, and that happens to be the case for memories that are not true. (Daniel Khaneman).
Call Me Evie is the award-winning debut novel from J.P. Pomare, taking out the Best First Novel category at the 2019 Ngaio Marsh Awards. It was also nominated in the Best Fiction category.
The accolade is well-deserved. This is an edge-of-your-seat thriller with an unreliable narrator, twisting and turning towards a startling conclusion.
In the "curl of the bay" (p.24) at Maketu, Gisborne, where
"the trees at the roadside hang a damp rug of shade over the grass and the frost breaks at our feet...houses sprout in paddocks." (p.58),
Call Me Evie is set in the quintessential Kiwi bach, with its generic faded map of New Zealand on the wall. A map well remembered by many.
Yet all is not right in this scene, as hinted on p.38:
...life can break apart like a flock of startled birds.
Who is Kate? Why is she calling herself Evie? Is the man she is with her keeping her prisoner, or caring for her? What has happened before? Evie has lost her memory of these events. She's not even sure who the man is. Pomare keeps you guessing - his protagonist is as full as questions as the reader: Where is Evie's Dad? Why isn't Kate/Evie a missing person? Is the the man she is with 'Willow's Dad?"
Call Me Evie is written like a journal, with diagnostic mental health questions at the beginning of some chapters:
In the past month, how often have you been upset or scared by something that happened unexpectedly?
0 - never; 1 - rarely; 2 - sometimes; 3 - often; 4 - all the time
Clues to the truth at the heart of this story gradually unravel - revealing not just the power of memory but the power of false memory. Why doesn't Kate remember? Is it trauma-induced psychosis; did Evie kill Thom? Or is someone else, the man, perhaps, responsible?
Pomare is already a master of language:
I hold the axe by the throat, just as Jim had shown me. It reminds me of the shape of the land here: valleys are cut as though struck by a blade, opening up the earth for native fern and bush to erupt. (p.65)
When you think you have it all figured out, be prepared for a last mind-bending twist! J.P. Pomare's new book In The Clearing already highly acclaimed, will be out on 31 December.