NVK by Temple Drake.
Titan Books. p/b. £8.99.
Reviewed by Elloise Hopkins.
Northern Finland, 1579. A young woman hides in the walls of her house but this time it is not a game. She watches, and waits a long time until she is sure the men are gone. Her family is dead. She packs her few possessions, takes food and useful items and lays her family to rest. She sets the house alights, and leaves.
Shanghai, 2012. It is nearly midnight and perhaps time for Zhang to go home. As always he is hosting a group of European businessmen, he himself long forgotten as they drink and dance. The music is loud. A man with a suitcase intrigues him. Then she appears and all else is forgotten.
She is not Chinese but speaks his language. She is calm; there is a stillness about her that captivates him as much as her dark, dark eyes and pale hair. He sees that she is unattainable unless you are the one she chooses, and this time Zhang is that one. Everything about her is intoxicating. Then she leaves him with only a name, Naemi, and no way of contacting her again. She simply tells him that she will find him.
NVK is written with a dream-like quality, the narrative woven with the same sense of mystery and exoticism as Naemi’s character holds ever out of reach. She enters Zhang’s life and entrances him with an intensity that is a balance of sensuality and serenity yet edged with something unsettling. There is something decidedly unusual about her but Zhang can never quite put his finger on it.
The story tracks the start of their relationship, but early on things are set somewhat off kilter when Zhang has a chance meeting with a Finnish man who claims to recognise Naemi but knows her by another name, from another place and time. Along with the help of a well-portrayed private investigator and a colourful friend named Mad Dog, Zhang begins to pick at the threads of Naemi’s life and the story continues in a fervent hunt for the truth.
Heavy with the atmosphere of a nordic noir, NVK is remarkably well styled and cleverly builds Naemi’s character from legends of ghosts and vampires but never explicitly labels her, leaving the questions carrying on beyond the epilogue. As a protagonist Zhang is endearing; the strong, confident businessman meets musician and artist in a calm and collected package. This book is not easy to compare to another and is simply a must-read experience.