Laura Sims’ debut novel, Looker, and her narrator, the Professor, may look slight but it’d be wrong to underestimate their impact. Both are pretty intense and equally capable of causing a stir.
The Professor lives in Brooklyn; her partner Nathan left her when she couldn’t have a baby. All she has now is her dead-end teaching job, her ramshackle apartment, and Nathan’s old moggy, Cat. Who she doesn’t even like.
The Actress lives a few doors down. She’s famous and beautiful, with auburn hair, perfect skin, a lovely smile. She’s got children – a baby, even. And a husband who seems to adore her. She leaves her windows open, even at night.
There’s no harm, the Professor thinks, in looking in through the illuminated glass at that shiny, happy family, fantasising about them, drawing ever closer to the actress herself. Or is there?
I could be wrong but in the same way we never have a name for the Actress, I don’t think we ever know the narrator’s name beyond people calling her Professor or addressing her as Professor T. I think this works well in that it designates them their roles: the one being watched and scrutinised with the other observing and making a study of her. By anonymising them, they could be any one of us in similar circumstances.
The Professor describes the actress’s life and career so well that we can build up a picture of it. It would be tricky to use the name, life and career of a real actress here anyway, not least because we would impose our own knowledge of and feelings about her which would get in the way of the Professor’s own, and those are what matter here. By only knowing the Actress by her job title it suggests that, though she might not realise it, she’s playing a role in the Professor’s life. It’s goes beyond a walk-on part, too, as she takes on increasing importance to the Professor.
Only knowing the narrator as the Professor not only defines the part she plays in the story, but also tells us her status in the workplace and that she has an academic background. It makes what happens over the course of the novel all the more shocking; to see someone with the Professor’s intellect fixate on another’s life in the way she does and see the unhealthy lengths to which she will go in pursuit of that is extremely troubling and unnerving. It’s frightening how removed she is from any support network.
What makes Looker so compelling is Laura Sims’ use of the first person narrative to tell this story of one woman locking onto another. It puts us in the Professor’s head: we follow her thoughts and reasoning and, being party to her logic makes it all too easy not to realise until it’s too late, how bizarre and erratic her behaviour is becoming. This is a woman unravelling and spiralling out of control and we’re in her head for the entire uncomfortable duration. It’s incredibly creepy and brilliantly executed.
Looker by Laura Sims is published by Tinder Press, an imprint of Headline. It’s out today and is available as an ebook and in paperback. You can find it at Amazon UK or buy it from Hive instead, where each purchase helps support your local independent bookshop. Looker is Laura Sims’ debut novel. For more information, check out her Author Website, or you can find her on Facebook, on Instagram, or on Twitter.
My thanks to the publisher for my review copy which I received through a Twitter giveaway.