Annaleese Jochems’s Debut Novel Alive and Squirming
“Cynthia, the simpering, scheming, covetous emotional sinkhole of New Zealander Annaleese Jochems’ assured debut novel, Baby, is alive and squirming; a memorable addition to the growing coterie of unapologetic antiheroines (dis)gracing the pages of contemporary fiction,” Beejay Silcox writes in a review of the book for The Guardian’s pages.
“Cynthia has been waiting for ‘something momentous’ to happen, nursing half-hearted dreams of TV stardom, but ‘nothing has happened at all’,” Silcox writes for the UK newspaper. “The twentysomething spends her days in a kind of festering stupor: doing ‘things on Facebook’; sleeping with ‘very attractive, very tedious’ boys; coddling her French bulldog, Snot-head; and taking private fitness classes with the formidably ‘unblemished’ Anahera.
“When Anahera arrives on her doorstep after abandoning her marriage, Cynthia fizzes into action. She empties her father’s bank account, and the two women drive to Paihia, where they purchase a boat called Baby, and hide out in the harbour. ‘Both of us will become entirely new to ourselves!’ she promises Anahera. ‘Just you wait!’
“Baby is a claustrophobic novel – a cabin-fever dream – its action largely confined below decks, where the world fits together ‘like a tiny set of organs’. In this miniaturised space, Cynthia’s thwarted desire burns up the oxygen; but what exactly is it that she wants? ‘It’s not so easy,’ Jochems writes, ‘to tell the difference between self-love and a firm expectation of love from someone else.’
“There are echoes here of Megan Abbott, Emma Cline, Zoë Heller and Miranda July: writers drawn to the intricacies and ferocious possibilities of female friendship. There’s a dollop, too, of Patricia Highsmith’s Tom Ripley; a dash of Lord of the Flies. What Jochems adds is a cloying grotesqueness. Baby is a novel of close-quarters living: of masticating mouths and human stink; of piss and vomit, sunburn and bruises, pimples and dandruff; of new fat expanding under the skin. A novel of bodies.
“There are implicit questions throughout this novel about the complexities of race, gender, power and identity in modern New Zealand, a place Cynthia describes as ‘our dirty country full of animals’ with palpable, cryptic disgust (she ‘doesn’t know any farmers, but you only have to watch the news to know what sort of place this country is’).”
Jochems, 25, was born in Whangarei. She is the owner of secondhand bookstore, Book Hound, in Wellington.
Baby was published by Victoria University Press in 2017. The book won the Hubert Church Best First Book Award at the 2018 Ockham New Zealand Book awards.
Original article by Beejay Silcox, The Guardian, August 15, 2019.