The Answers by Catherine Lacey, Published by Granta Books, 2018.
Review by Rachel Maden
Catherine Lacey’s newest novel introduces us to Mary, a woman suffering from a series of pervasive and explainable medical problems who must take unusual measures to pay for her equally unusual treatment. She finds herself playing the role of ‘Emotional Girlfriend’ to a famous actor, alongside a cast of other women and under the scrutiny of a team of scientific researchers. Their interest is the nature of love, a concept that Mary herself finds similarly difficult to comprehend.
Its premise is implicitly feminist, asking what would happen if women were compensated for the emotional labour they are expected to take on in their personal relationships. Similarly, the author doesn’t hesitate to skewer other familiar frustrations of modern life with her acerbic wit: celebrity culture, algorithmic dating and ascetic dieting, to name a few. Powerful truisms are dotted throughout the novel with a pleasing expertise – Lacey navigates everything from lightly satirising society to challenging the very fabric of social order with the same confident, understated command.
Although its ambitious plot is the novel’s primary appeal, readers may find that the climax does not deliver the blow promised by the build-up. But Lacey’s skilful writing will keep you turning pages until the very end, and the questions she poses will resonate deeply with the huge number of us searching for the same answers.