Nina Allan’s follow-up to The Race is a tricky one to categorise. It’s the story of a disappearance and the terrible impact it has on a family, and then what happens when the missing person returns with an unbelievable story.
Selena’s life was forever changed when her older sister Julie vanished as a teenager. She has drifted through life somewhat in the subsequent years, but when Julie calls out of the blue, everything changes.
Julie says that she suddenly found herself on the alien planet of Tristane, and was told by the inhabitants that she had always lived there. The details that Julie provides are incredibly convincing, but Selena can’t help but dig back into the past in an attempt to find out what really happened.
Allan pulls the reader into an intimate world filled with quiet catastrophe. From the opening chapter, in which Selena recalls the events surrounding a neighbour’s suicide, the author shows a fantastic ability to portray both the people who are struggling to cope and those who observe and react.
For a novel dealing with the disappearance of a teenage girl and her unbelievable return, there are very few big dramatic moments, while the most dramatic conversations happen in script form, making the reader take a step back.
The science fiction elements are beautifully detailed and a fascinating world almost unto themselves, while excerpts from novels, textbooks, essays and papers from Earth and Tristane on everything from horrifying parasites to Picnic At Hanging Rock keep pushing the scope of the story further and further, but everything is connected.
So much of the novel involves such perfectly observed, deeply affecting human behaviour that the sheer ambition at work almost creeps up on you, and it’s absolutely compelling. This is a marvel.