Sunday, November 29, 2015

Stay - Nicola Griffith

Stay is the second of three crime novels Nicola Griffith wrote about Aud Torvingen. They are something of a departure from the science fiction novels Griffith wrote before, and radically different again from Hild (2013), her most recent novel. I read The Blue Place in January and greatly enjoyed it, but then repeatedly forgot to order a copy of the sequel. I won't be making that mistake again. A copy of Always, the third volume, is on the way. The novel picks up almost directly after the events in The Blue Place so this review will inevitably some contain spoilers. You have been warned.

Aud spent the summer hard at work on renovating a cabin far away from the world and her old life. The events at the end of The Blue Place have wounded Aud and these wounds are slow to heal. She is hiding and not yet willing to admit it. Unexpectedly an old friend comes to visit her and asks for her help. The woman he has had a complicated relationship with for years, has never returned from a business trip. He is worried. Aud doesn't particularly like this woman, suspects she is just with another man and would rather not get involved. Her friend insists something is wrong. Reluctantly Aud agrees to go look for her. It turns out there is a lot more going on than a simple missing person case.

We get to see a completely different Aud in this novel. In The Blue Place she is confident, competent and a pillar to lean on for those around her. She has hidden the trauma she suffered years before carefully away and retreats to the blue place, a state of mind where her anger is cold and she is always certain what to do, if she feels physically threatened. The blue place has become a crutch for her, a source of overconfidence. It has lead her to make mistakes with far-reaching consequences. In Stay, Aud is not so sure any more. She has lost something of her confidence and fears some of the things she knows she must do. Her anger, when it comes, is no longer cold but white hot and uncontrolled. In other words, Aud has some issues to work through.

To highlight the shift in Aud's character she is pitted against a man who sees people as objects. He is a monster plain and simple, manipulating everybody around to get what he wants. He wears masks and plays roles, all without any feeling or empathy behind it. It is like looking in a mirror to Aud, the man has as deep an insight in human behaviour as she does, and he uses it to his advantage. She recognizes a lot of herself in him and it shocks her. Meeting this man triggers a violent response that could get her in serious trouble. The big difference between them is that Aud has a moral compass, but the likeness is still entirely too close for comfort. Griffith uses this likeness to make the reader feel uncomfortable about Aud's actions.

In a way, meeting her evil twin only underlines how dangerous Aud herself is. She possesses both the physical and mental skills to deal a lot of damage and Griffith drives that fact home even harder than in the first book. Aud, I suspect, is beginning to see the possibilities for abuse as well. She is torn between wanting to withdraw and her urge to help those that do not have her skills and power. She is looking for a balance in how much of herself she is willing to invest to help those who can't help themselves. It proves to be a difficult question.

One other major change in Aud is that she shows her vulnerability in this novel. At the end of the first book the mask she has hidden behind cracks and slowly but surely she is learning to communicate her feelings to others. Aud is opening up in ways we haven't seen her do in the first book. It's slow and painful but Aud doesn't feel the need to pretend to be superhuman all the time any more and those around her think that is a remarkable improvement.

There is a lot going on in this novel in terms of characterisation but Aud solves a crime as well. Griffith digs into a dodgy adoption/immigration case. It's a tragic illustration of the problems people deemed to be illegal immigrants face and how easy it is to take advantage of their situation. What makes it even more heartbreaking is the fact that the person involved is too young to realize the danger. Griffith shows us one small part of the huge problem the US is having with immigration. This book was published 13 years ago. The situation doesn't  seem to have improved much.

The climax of the first book was absolutely heartbreaking. In this novel you are left with the feeling Aud has managed to crawl out of the hole she found herself in. There is trouble brewing on the horizon of course but she has made great strides towards finding her balance again. Griffith does amazing things with this character, who in the hands of a lesser writer could easily have turned into a clich├ęd badass former police officer. Stay is a worthy sequel to The Blue Place. I'm looking forward to reading the third book. It will be interesting to see if Aud can hang on to her new found humanity.

Book Details
Title: Stay
Author: Nicola Griffith
Publisher: Vintage Books
Pages: 303
Year: 2003
Language: English
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 978-1-4000-3230-3
First published: 2002

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