A pervasive menace inhabits this novel. At first the tension stems from suspicion, mistrust and the subtle erosion of jealousy as Stella and her lover, Ivan, perform a slow, repetitious dance, measuring their days by the rituals that define their relationship.
Every aspect of Stella Lewis’ precisely detailed life is organized, implying a need for control of her environment. This control provides a false sense of security, but it is a prescription she clings to as rigidly as the aromatherapy oils lined in the cabinet of her London treatment room, the labels exactly aligned in rows like regimented soldiers.
In her apartment to replace her gas fixtures with electric ones, Ivan is drawn to this seductive balance of structure and harmony: Stella’s calm manipulation of her daily routine, the massage patients who come and go with regularity. This tendency to containment and cleanliness is attractive to Ivan; certainly he is fascinated by her spare movements, her fine-tuned sense of order.
Stella dictates the rules before Ivan moves in with her: “No stories from the past. No unnecessary anecdotes. No questions.” Inevitably, Ivan’s past intrudes bit by bit, and the questions assault Stella’s every waking moment, intrusions into her carefully restricted world that upset the comfortable daily routine, at the same time sending an erotic charge through the relationship, unexpected layers of passion, and with it, suspicion.
In the author’s deft melding of Stella’s inner turbulence and outer calm, a pervasive menace creeps into the house, the office, the bedroom, the harmonious sliding day by day into chaos, with the intrusions of an overly-friendly, lonely neighbor, a faithless cat, a too-sympathetic sister, a long-lost love and the gradual disintegration of a well-planned life.
Stella’s confused, haunted thoughts and Ivan’s increasingly suspicious behavior are marked by a taut psychological tension, events moving toward a startling resolution that will prove Stella’s secure constructions a sham in this novel that begs to be read in one sitting.
The author creates a fascinating palette of aberrant human behavior, scents, sounds, color, imagination, touch, fear, all shifting like an Impressionist painting until the image is suddenly clear.