Rachel Kendall’s fascinating debut, Stranger Days, is compelling and disturbing in equal measure. A literary psychological thriller set in Paris, the book is part memoir, part fever dream, the finely wrought prose never failing to unsettle the reader. I read the book compulsively, staying up late into the night to keep turning the pages. With each one, I felt myself tip-toeing on a knife-edge of darkness, driven to read on by each new secret, each intimate revelation.
The novel centres on a pair of lovers who leave everything familiar behind and go to Paris to lose themselves in cafés and flea markets, galleries and gardens, art, sex and adventure. In the white heat of the Parisian summer, the pair lose more than that, particularly the sensitive narrator, teetering on the brink of an existential crisis. Her partner Z is an absent presence, an easygoing blur compared to her vivid consumption of the sights, sounds and smells of the city, her frenetic imagination that spins each passer-by into a character, each shadowy doorway into the opening of a new dark story.
As Kendall’s vibrant prose draws you deeper into the novel’s dark heart, the city of Paris itself becomes an increasingly complex character. In the first pages, its creative vibe and attractiveness to poets and artists is lovingly (and sometimes sardonically) evoked. Later, driven by insatiable curiosity, the protagonist strays ever further from the beaten track, simultaneously attracted and repelled by the fetid city putrefying in the blistering heat, discovering the darker side of Paris, its hidden depths… and shallows. The book reads like a love letter to the city at points, or maybe a love/hate letter, with layers of conflicting feeling that shimmer and make you grimace by turns.
For the city’s best kept secret is Elodie, a mysterious girl, seductive and mercurial, intimate and cruel, who forms a too-fast friendship with the narrator. After their first chance meeting, the pair collide more and more often. Elodie seeps into the narrator’s writing and thoughts, her dreams and fantasies, until the two begin to merge into each other.
It is this absorbing evocation of the intense attraction and savagery that can co-exist in a friendship that makes the book a must-read. From the moment Elodie appears on the scene, the novel is impossible to put down. The two women are friends and enemies and almost lovers, their intense connection threatening to obliterate both of them. With each sidelong glance, the fine wire of the novel’s tension tightens, inexorably drawing the reader on to breaking point.
This startling debut is highly recommended. The writing is beautiful and the plot will compel you to turn the pages. You won’t see the ending coming and it will knock you flat.
Stranger Days is available to buy here.
Rachel Kendall is a thirty-nine year old writer and editor (Sein und Werden) living in Manchester with her daughter of much-messness. The house is full of junk, dead things (some stuffed, others skeletal), books, fairy wings, a toy tea-set, a selection of Eeyores, many films, plastic dinosaurs, much vintage jewellery and Owen the armadillo. She collects animal-feet brooches and loves the printed word.
In 2009 her short story collection The Bride Stripped Bare was published by Dog Horn Publishing. Her Paris novel Stranger Days has just been released by Oneiros Press.