Claire Obscure by Billie Hinton ~ a novel of polarised contrasts and drama.
It took me a little while to get round to reading this novel and my enjoyment of it was interrupted by the need to put it down and do some work. For someone like me who enjoys playing with words and word meanings, this was a book of great opportunities to discover hidden depths even beneath the depths the story already shows.
Primarily, for me this was a novel of dramatic contrasts, of almost Yin-Yang proportions and also of reversals, and of exploring light and dark in a remarkably elegant manner. The title itself is a give-away: Claire, meaning light or clear and Obscure, meaning dark or hidden. No one thing or character is so clear cut as to fall fully into either category. The main character Claire Caviness is enamoured of both words and contrasts, seeking to both hide and reveal herself using them. She writes letters to Virginia Woolf, that most impenetrable of early twentieth century novelists wherein she seems to be both supplicant to her writer-deity and also a challenge to her.
Claire becomes involved with two separate men, whose lives are again a mix of the secret and the daylight-plain. Finn, a trainee doctor, has a professional life that is totally open, yet his private life and his thoughts remain alarmingly hidden; in direct contrast is the second man, Raoul. His professional life as a special ops soldier is shrouded not just in secrets but in red tape: he simply is not allowed to share what he does. Yet his emotional life is laid bare, frequently, by either his own words or that of his best friend.
Each chapter starts with a header of an unusual word, that Claire has copied out along with its definition, showing both her love of words and a subtle clue to the content of the chapter. It’s a clever and rather wonderful device that adds to the suspense, because for all its literary chops, this is a suspense novel. Claire’s friend Lucy dies in mysterious circumstances, and Finn, with whom Claire is deeply involved by now in a strange dance that seems at times to be love and at others, something rather more sinister.
As a suspense novel, the layers of both plot and of Claire’s hidden life, and her history, are peeled back in tantalising shreds that often conceal more than they reveal, leaving the reader with the unease characteristic of a suspense story and the enjoyment of the process of revelation, much like an artistic strip tease. Imagine a Dance of the Seven veils, but with words rather than veils. The effect is disconcerting, a literary trompe l’œil that makes you question constantly what you are actually seeing and experiencing.
You can find out more about the book here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/claire-obscure-ebook/dp/B004CFASCY
or more about Billie Hinton here : http://billiehinton.com/