Book of the Week

Katherine Carlyle by Rupert Thomson Photo: PA Photo/Corsair
Katherine Carlyle by Rupert Thomson Photo: PA Photo/Corsair

Katherine Carlyle by Rupert Thomson.

The central theme of Rupert Thomson’s haunting novel is how we shape our identity, and ultimately our destiny.

Our protagonist Katherine was conceived by IVF and kept frozen for eight years until her parents decided they wanted her.

Now a naive 19-year-old and due to start university, she’s virtually an orphan - her mother has died of cancer and her busy war correspondent father is often absent. To spite him, she decides to disappear, dropping her phone into the river in their home city of Rome and travelling to Berlin on a whim, having overheard the name of a man who’s recently split from his girlfriend there.

Convinced she’s being sent celestial ‘messages’, she allows her interpretation of a series of random encounters to shape where she goes, her “experiment with coincidence” - a journey that takes her through Russia to Svalbard in Norway. En route she acts out conversations with her father - and her daydreams start to slowly merge with reality until the reader’s left questioning what’s fact and what’s fiction.

Narrated in the first-person present, Thomson’s 10th novel starts as a floaty Amelie-esque adventure, and becomes darker and harder as Katherine’s stubborn need to experience life in the raw leads her into some dangerous territory.

Although well-researched and with an acutely observed take on the growing pains and self-infatuation of a teenager on the cusp of a new life, Thomson’s book leaves the reader cold with a protagonist who’s ultimately unlikeable.