Annie Fairhurst is thrilled to be living in a new house in a new neighborhood. Euphoric that the last link between her future and her past has finally been severed, Annie is eager to make a fresh start and to meet new people. With the key to her home fresh from the solicitor’s brown envelope, Annie’s first agenda is getting to know her new neighbors: handsome Neil and his gorgeous, yoga-loving girlfriend, Lucy.
Neil and Lucy’s afternoon barbecue with a couple of friends is an invitation and also a perfect opportunity for Annie to begin her friendship. But as Annie quietly stands by her backyard fence, she’s confronted with a stark and unpleasant reality when she overhears Lucy‘s catty and unfortunate comments, the furtive whispers and the insinuations, her “wet hiccups and throaty giggles” framed around the accusation: “she hangs about and listens.”
Annie knows what it’s like to live on the edge. In spite of all her hopes and plans, of late she’s been perilously close to returning to her “old ways,” even scuppering the program of self- development and personal progress she has mentally set in place. This doesn’t stop Annie from gravitating between volatility and embarrassment, obsessively gorging on sausages, ice cream and condensed milk while increasingly fixating on Lucy, whom she soon views as a threat to her daily existence.
Desperate for approval, Annie hosts a housewarming party, frantically flitting about attending to pale, chubby Raymond, who slurps noisily on his cans of lager, and the kindly Indian couple, Barry and Sangita Choudhry. Yet
Lucy’s constant condescending attitude toward Annie - “all calculated, flapping concern”
- becomes a catalyst for her desperate descent into bad behavior that begins with depositing her bags of rubbish through Lucy’s letter box.
Slowly but surely, Ashworth unravels her sensational character, who behaves as only a paranoid schizophrenic would.
An image forms of an overweight, narcissistic, self-deluded woman who fosters lurid romantic fantasies about Neil
and contemplates a violent payback against the ever-irritating Lucy.
Ashworth plumbs remarkable depths to explore Annie’s isolation from the world and a life shaped by her murky forays into “fat porn,” along with startling hints of infanticide and a childhood steeped in sexual abuse. Annie’s digressions into her sordid past are the true eye-opener: her quicksand of a marriage to William, a successful dentist; later, the forbidden pleasures from Boris and his tattered, rolled-up magazine with its erotic and sleazy tales of sluttish full-figured girls.
We read, horrified, as twisted, sick, apathetic Annie descends into a brazen cauldron of perversion and self-delusion. A sublime and catty narrator - disdainful of Lucy and suspicious of her neighbors
- Annie’s cynical observations and petty critiques of her surroundings make her journey feisty, witty and endlessly entertaining. In the end, Annie falls ever-more into distorted madness while the emotional toll rises, the collateral damage to Lucy and Neil based on the cruelest of deceptions. Even when Annie keeps to the truth and captures the essentials, the fact that she will never live to regret her actions provides the most bitter irony.