I have been having good luck with books recently. You may remember that I impulsively bought Yellow by Janni Visman, after having barcoded it in the Bodleian – based on the blurb and the cover, and the fact that Amazon has lots going for a penny. Well, I couldn’t resist – it’s now been read, and I can declare it excellent.
Stella is agoraphobic, to the extent that she cannot leave her flat at all. She lives there with her partner, Ivan, and her cat, George. When Ivan moved in, she made three rules:
No stories from the past.
No unnecessary anecdotes.
“Suits me fine,” he said.
Stella is also neurotic. Not in a Monica-from-Friends-hilarious-way, but in a studied attention to details and fixation with routine. She wears the same colour shoes for months, and the decision to change from blue to red is momentous. As an aromatherapist, she has a steady stream of clients come to her treatment room – all of whom call her Ms. Lewis, and from whom overtures of friendship are unwelcome. Throughout the novel, Stella treats her own and others dilemmas with treatments from the ordered phials in the one metre square cabinet: ‘To a glass of water I add five drops of Bach Flower Remedy White Chestnut for “constant worrying thoughts and/or mental arguments”. I note I need to order another bottle.’
One day Ivan is wearing an old gold bracelet with his name on it, and ‘True love forever over every single rainbow XXX S.L 1978’ inscribed inside. Who is S.L.? They are Stella’s initials – they are the initials of her sister, Skye. Whose else could they be? ‘Yellow is the colour of gas, of fear, of jealousy.’ As her partner, her sister, her new neighbour and even her cat begin to behave strangely, Stella’s jealousy and paranoia become deeper and deeper and increasingly damaging. But is there some justification?
Janni Visman’s novel is short, but immensely powerful. The first person narrative is sparse and often detached; the voice of a woman trying to control her worries by ordering them. As a portrait of paranoia, this is intense and affective – gripping and taut, occasionally disturbing but always compelling.
Visman cites Hitchcock’s Vertigo as partial inspiration (see a great interview here), but (especially since she trained as a fine artist) this painting, shown alongside the book, could have been made for the book, and was the bookmark I used – Vilhelm Hammershoi’s Interior, Sunlight on the Floor 1906.