Tess (Kirsten McDougall) – book review

A psychological suspense novel with touches of paranormal, Tess is a beautifully balanced, chilling, claustrophobic and clever novel.

Set in small town New Zealand, at the turn of the millennium, Tess is, as the blurb puts it “a gothic love story about the ties that bind and tear a family apart.” It’s also a story of how rewarding an unlikely friendship can be, and about the power of connecting with the other. It’s about reaching out to somebody for the sake of kindness, contact and being a human being in a world that sometimes seems committed to the other direction.

The writing in Tess is excellent, the flashbacks, the special powers / paranormal elements all flow into the rest of the story in a manner that never makes them seamless, and all the more believable because of that. The strength of Tess is not in overt messaging, but the nuance of depiction. There’s violence and hate and plenty of threat here, but it’s skilfully portrayed, never contrived, never manipulative. The threat is implied, the violence explored by consequence rather than actuality.

Tess is stark vivid, deep, contemplative, different and extremely rewarding reading.

Karen Chisholm
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