Celia Fremlin - The Jealous One
"‘The Jealous One’ is an outstanding novel of Domestic Noir. I cannot recommend it strongly enough. "
On the surface, Rosamund and her husband, Geoffrey, are living the suburban dream. Happily married, they've set up home in a safe, middle-class suburb where they keep each other entertained by gossiping about their neighbours, revelling in their flaws and foibles.
When a new neighbour moves in next door, Rosamund's safe world is shattered. Their new neighbour, Lindy, is smart, good-looking, friendly, and delightful in every way. She is nothing like the conventional, respectable neighbours Rosamund and Geoffrey are used to dealing with (and feeling superior to). The only problem is that Geoffrey is a little too delighted with Lindy, and his wife is not happy about it. Rosamund begins to feel isolated.
Then Rosamund falls ill with flu. In her fevered state, she dreams of murdering Lindy. When she wakes up, she's horrified to discover that Lindy has inexplicably disappeared. What could possibly have happened?
Has Rosamund murdered Lindy, or is the real nightmare just beginning?
'The Jealous One' was my first introduction to the writing of Celia Fremlin. And what an introduction to the Grande Dame of domestic noir. Written in 1964, 'The Jealous One' is a masterpiece of mid-twentieth century noir.
The novel begins with Rosamund waking from a fevered dream. From this point, the story is told in flashbacks, starting with the day Lindy moved in next door, and working up to the moment of her disappearance.
Unlike their other neighbours – upstanding and dull – Lindy is bohemian and unafraid of standing out from the crowd. She also seems determined to steal Geoffrey from under Rosamund's nose. Or is she? The more she gets to know Lindy, the less clear Rosamund becomes about her neighbour's real intentions.
Fremlin clearly enjoyed poking fun at the society she lived in. Lindy's motivations are hidden beneath a veneer of respectability. In that sense, at least, she is no different to Rosamund's other neighbours. In their stifling middle-class, suburban world, polite behaviour hides all sorts of wrong-doings.
Rosamund is constantly reassessing her opinions of Lindy, which makes the reader do the same thing. Is Lindy really manipulative and scheming, or is she simply doing what everyone else is too scared to do – just be herself?
Fremlin creates a terrifying sense of menace and tension as the plot unfolds. When Rosamund falls ill, her sense of disorientation and confusion become almost unbearable. All the reader can do is keep turning the pages in the knowledge that, any moment now, something truly terrible is about to happen.
It's not clear, until the very end, what has happened to Lindy. When the truth is finally revealed, it's done with such a clever twist that I dare any reader to see it coming.
'The Jealous One' is an outstanding novel of Domestic Noir. I cannot recommend it strongly enough. Fremlin should be given her due as one of the Godmothers of Domestic Noir and be receive wider recognition. An astonishingly clever little tale.
Reviewed by: S.B.