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Come Closer by Sara Gran review – a woman possessed | Fiction

Harpies, doppelgangers, possessive spirits: once confined to horror writing, these supernatural entities prowl the pages of literary fiction with increasing confidence. In the past couple of years, novelists such as Daisy Johnson, Megan Hunter and Helen Phillips have harnessed them to probe female passions and frustrations, but Sara Gran beat them to it in 2003.

Newly reissued, her lean, seductively mean novel Come Closer evokes a turn-of-the-millennium world in which thirtysomethings could still afford urban lofts and mobile phones hadn’t become ubiquitous. The compromises and contortions required to succeed as a woman, however, haven’t aged a bit.

It begins on a Friday afternoon, when narrator Amanda, an architect, is summoned by her boss. On his desk sits her proposal for a renovation, but when he thrusts it at her, she finds her words have been replaced by an expletive-laden rant about him. “I felt like I had stepped into a bad dream. There was no logic, no reason any more,” she explains.

While that feeling of profound instability propels the novel, it’s accompanied by another: exhilaration. Because horrified though she is, Amanda can’t help agreeing with what’s been written about her boss.

The incident is followed by other unexplained, out-of-character happenings. A tapping noise fills the home she shares with husband Ed; a shoplifted lipstick finds its way into her bag; she begins smoking again. Soon come dive bars, shopping sprees, hook-ups with strange men. When she starts blacking out, things career gruesomely out of control.

Throughout, there remains that sly, barely perceptible delight in the wrecking of a life so carefully constructed. A life that epitomises personal and professional bliss, yet leaves her wanting to grind a cigarette butt into Ed’s bare leg. “Everyone has thoughts like this from time to time,” she comforts herself, not quite registering just how many unexplained late nights he’s been spending at the office.

What makes Come Closer so magnetically disturbing is the way in which, even as Gran tells a knowing fable of diabolic possession, she leaves open the possibility that the demon – pert of nose and slender of foot – might emanate from Amanda’s repressed psyche. Just as in one of the novel’s own antecedents, Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper, it’s hard to say which is the more fearsome notion.

Come Closer by Sara Gran is published by Faber (£8.99). To support the Guardian and Observer order your copy at guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply



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