SICK AT HEART
(Published in Germany as ‘Drei grausame Frauen’ – ‘Three Cruel Women’)
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‘You were my world and I was your creature.’
Alex’s mother is his first love. Throughout his isolated childhood he protects her, worships her, hates her… and keeps her murderous secrets. So, when she rejects him, remarries and sends him to school in England, Alex is profoundly damaged. He is also charming, funny, handsome and ambitious. And he’s looking for a woman he can mould – a woman who will never betray him.
Sick at Heart is told through Alex’s letters: the first to his remote, fragile mother, the second to his gentle, correct wife, and the third to his talented and exquisite seventeen-year-old lover. As Alex writes with the unfathomable calm of a deranged mind, the line between obsessive love and extreme hatred blurs, then disappears.
Sick at Heart is a compelling, exciting and disturbingly dramatic novel about intimate jeopardy and the dark side of human longing.
Unkind of Loving
Imagine a man hater’s dream date: a mother-fixated, child-hating, wife-bashing, school-girl-seducing fiend. There you have Alex, the handsome devil of Sick at Heart.
As Alex warns at the beginning, this attempt at understanding violent men should not be confused with an apology. .. In it the romantic hero has been twisted into a psychotic pen pal – the book is divided into long letters addressed to “My three cruel women” – the mother, the wife and the girlfriend.
Through these elegant, spare missives we learn of Alex’s childhood in rural France… the story is grimly compulsive…’
Helen Rumbelow, The Times Metro
A Family Sickness
Alex, brought up in the South of France, falls obsessively in love with his own mother, his feelings swinging between worship and hatred. When she remarries, he returns to school in England where, although his soul is scarred, he maintains a happy and charming exterior while secretly searching for a woman he can call his own, one who can never hurt him the way his mother did.
His deranged tale is told through letters, firstly to his mother and later to his gentle wife and his 17-year-old lover. The language is beautifully chosen to show the damaged mind of Alex as it really is, in a story that will haunt and disturb.
I adore dodgy narrators – it’s the clever-clogs feeling of having read between the lines – and Melissa Jones was tipping me the wink as early as page one in Sick at Heart. “I think what I’ve written is what could be described as an apologia, which should on no account be confused with an apology.” Three long letters follow, beginning with one to “Darling Mummy… the first of my three cruel women.” Alex has a point about Mummy. There follows a chilling account of his childhood in an enforced country idyll with his glamorous, alcoholic mother..
Alex’s second subject is Susannah, his hard-won wife. Susannah’s lack of domestic skills soon incurs Alex’s disdain and imminent fatherhood doesn’t soften him. Susannah is later hospitalized with anorexia and depression.
Letter Three is to the young, bright Kitty who moves in with Alex but soon finds herself chafing against high possessive dominance.
Alex is barking mad; he is also intelligent, plausible and, ultimately, pitiful. His mother is lip-smackingly monstrous. I defy you not to enjoy meeting both of them, in a shivery kind of way.
Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: Orion; New edition edition (5 Oct 2000)