by Ross Armstrong
We live in a time when almost every other book, film or television show is a reworked version of another book, film or television show. From the spate of Shakespeare updates to Star Wars revisiting, well, Star Wars, culture is not only eating itself; it is watching it eat itself. Ross Armstrong’s first novel knows this only too well, acknowledging its debt to Rear Window.
Our heroine is Lily Gullick, a birdwatcher so passionate she verges on the compulsive. Given the Hitchcock references, we are hardly surprised when she trains her binoculars on something dangerous: the inhabitants of a condemned estate across the road from her comparatively luxurious flat. As in the original, her suspicions end with a dead body. The postmodern twist foregrounds the climax of Hitchcock’s movie: someone is watching as Lily watches someone else. The Watcher is a slick but immensely enjoyable confection that feels written for a screen of some sort. While the prose is functional at best, the dialogue leaps off the page. The fragile but brave Gullick commands the attention, and the plot is well judged, powered by a strong mix of “what is really going on?” and “who can you trust?”