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She’s a Killer by Kirsten McDougall


This is such a great read. What is not to love about a central character who is a bitch to everyone? What makes this so great are the bonus features. This central character has an invisible friend, a girl called Simp, whom she converses with all the time. Unusual, given that she is thirty-seven. Also I love the portrayal of the not to distant future. A world where all the things we are about to face into are starting to happen. Climate change, the flooding and drought in other countries, has created a new class of people. The wealthugees. Those who are rich enough to pay their way out of the problems in their own country and who are welcomed into this very realistic New Zealand of the future, only as long as they are paying.


Our central character and narrator is Alice. She lives in the same house as her mother but has walled up the staircase down into her flat and only communicates with her mother by flashing lights and Morse code. There are so many great things about this protagonist, that you cannot help but love her. The more of a bitch she is, the more you love her. Also I love the way she is pitched, one point below the IQ of a genius, and resentful about it. She began training to be a psychologist, but was refused entry into further study at university. Instead she has lapsed into being an underachiever. But a dangerously clever one. The idea that she would do well at an advertising agency by feeding the boss psycho-babble about their clients is a great one.


Alice has only one friend, Amy. A girl she knew from school and who has been her only friend since age seven. At eighteen Alice saved Amy’s life and Amy has not been able to get rid of her since, even though Amy has moved on. Amy has a nice house, kids, a successful husband. She is moving up in life. The complete opposite of Alice.


One of Alice’s main problems is that she knows too much and is very self-aware. For example this passage about Nick, one of her ex-boyfriends:


‘Like many people throughout my life, Nick had seen a lot of potential in me. Nick loved my potential and believed that through careful attention and care he would free me of whatever it was that was obviously holding me back from fulfilling it. He would say things like, You’re so clever, you should join MENSA. You have such original ideas, you should write a novel. Nick mistook his love of my potential as love for me. I understood right from the start that this was the case, but I did not try to disabuse him because there was no point. Saviours are very determined people. Also – I was still young enough to feel a kind of pride in someone loving my potential. It was almost like having someone love me.’


The lack of care that Alice displays can be seen very clearly in this observation she makes about the wealthugees:


‘Since the wealthugees had started pouring into the city more than a year earlier, I’d had a number of casual encounters with men, new arrivals at the end of the world. The problem with them was that they mostly wanted to talk about living in a new country and where they could get good coffee and their trauma and which was the best gym to work out in. I didn’t want to hear their stories and I couldn’t help them. They’d paid for a nice bottle of wine and mistaken me for someone who listened. Their stories were all the same. Their countries were flooded, burning or in drought. They ran from civil wars and useless governments, and they all had the money to leave. I got fed up with them. I pointed out to one guy that he was lucky. He’d been able to come to New Zealand because his family could offer large amounts of money in return for residency; they could afford a small piece of land on which to build a house. He didn’t like that. He slapped my face and yelled at me, saying I didn’t understand what he’d lost. Then, to make it worse, he sat on the floor and cried and begged me to forgive him because he had PTSD. It took me ages to get him out of my house.’


However, along comes one of the wealthugees, asking Alice to help him study Russian literature at the university where she works in a menial job she hates. He draws her into the beginning of a relationship. He is older, with a teenage daughter, but Alice is seduced by his very soft hands. From there things begin to rapidly spiral out of Alice’s control. She is the sort of person who likes to be in control.


I am not going to say more about the plot because to do so would give things away which are better if they are a surprise. One of the best things about the book it that readers are constantly being surprised by the twists and turns. It is down to the skill of the writer, Kirsten McDougall, that we continue to feel that Alice is constantly being surprised by what is happening around her. As Alice says, ‘Oh my god. I’m being used and at the same time ignored…You’ve completely ambushed my life.’


Reviewer: Marcus Hobson

Victoria University Press