There’s a clutter-free coolness to the form and focus of this U.S. novel that recalls the attitude of Outline-era Rachel Cusk...
Narrated with gnomic mystery as well as lethally disarming candour, it’s a slim novel with the heft of a much larger one.
Indelicacy, though, is a thing of real delicacy, with a fine, distilled quality to the writing, every word precisely chosen, precisely placed. At first it seems almost too sparse, each chapter just a few pages, with Vitória as enigmatic and elusive as her surroundings. We’re in an unnamed country in an unnamed point in history. But there’s a slyness to Cain’s writing that cuts through, and makes the tale increasingly engrossing. By the end, you walk in step with her heroine as she finds her own path towards freedom. There’s also an intriguing playfulness, initially obscured by all that poise, that seems to resist the reader’s expectations of historical realism.
Dana, in particular, is a confidante on the art monster within as she explains her fears of not making it in ballet: “ ‘I’m afraid it’s too late,’ she said early on in our conversations. ‘I didn’t start young enough.’ ” Vitoria knows exactly what she means and, crucially, she knows exactly what needs to be said in response.
Indelicacy is a call-out to female artists and would-be artists across the ages.
Cain — like more established US literary stars such as Jenny Offill and Ottessa Moshfegh — writes in a style I have started to call “modern flat”. It has qualities that include, but are not limited to, deceptively simple structures, first person narration, usually by a woman, and short, almost curt sentences. All of which serve to conceal something deeper, and sometimes unsettling, beneath that calm surface. As Dana, one of Vitória’s friends, observes: “You are fascinated by everything around you.” Cain’s slim volume reminds us that meaning and fascination is all around us: “The lake, calm and alive, growing darker as the day grew dark . . . showing me something of life, how to exist.”
You get the sense that our author, as well as our heroine, is aware of the limits of words; the visual is conjured as much by what is absent. Her bone-clean prose creates a sense of immersion in a story that feels both mythic and true... A woman’s search for creativity is not a new subject, yet Cain has made it so. “How happy I was. I had created an experience for someone; I hadn’t been sure I could actually do that,” says Vitória, when a friend reads her writing – the goal of all art, and one that the author fulfils with an intricate grace that endures long after the setting down of this deceptively slim book.