Well, how could I resist a novel that shares its name with the punctuation mark I overuse the most?
At 15.32 precisely, Daniel Mansen is pushed into the path of an oncoming train by Alice, the young woman who has been following him covertly for several weeks. As he falls from the platform, Daniel says one thing: ‘Right on time’ – as though he were expecting it. After the funeral, Thom Mansen begins to find out more about the cousin he never really knew, and uncovers evidence suggesting that Daniel somehow knew in advance that he was going to die. Alice enters Thom’s life under an assumed name, searching for answers of her own; by novel’s end, both will uncover truths that they might wish had stayed hidden.
Ellipsis is an interesting debut from Nikki Dudley that (happily) never quite settles into the shape you might expect. It has its flaws: for example, and particularly towards the beginning, the prose is can be weighed down with so many metaphors and similes that the impact of the imagery is diluted. But, once the novel hits its stride, we discover not only how fragile is Alice’s state of mind (her first-person voice is marvellously disconcerting), but also that Thom’s character isn’t as straightforward as it appears to be at first (I’d say that this becomes apparent a little too slowly, leading to a couple of moments where one thinks, ‘Why did he do that?’ – but that’s a minor problem).
Dudley also makes some neat observations about character; for example, here’s Thom reflecting on his choice of job (working in a call centre for an insurance firm), and his difficulty in talking about his parents’ death: ‘Perhaps that is why he has a job where he always knows what to say because there is a handbook.’ (27)
What’s particularly striking about the central mystery is less the actual events of the plot than the way Dudley plays with the reader’s perception; one is led to conceptualise the story in a particular way, then finds that it’s not the right way – but it’s hard to shake off the original interpretation, so strongly has it been established. And the ending produces a further twist that leaves us on shifting sands once again.
As its title suggests, Ellipsis revolves around gaps in knowledge – in the reader’s knowledge of what happens, and in the characters’ knowledge of events, people, and even of themselves. And those gaps add up to an intriguing, satisfying read.
Nikki Dudley’s blog
Contrary Life interview with Dudley
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