by Nicola Griffith

Cover image

Series: Aud Torvingen #2
Publisher: Vintage Crime / Black Lizard
Copyright: 2002
ISBN: 1-4000-3230-X
Format: Trade paperback
Pages: 303

Buy at Powell's Books

This is the sequel to The Blue Place and is almost impossible to talk about without spoiling the end of that novel. The back cover of Stay even gives away the ending of The Blue Place. If spoilers bother you, you probably want to stop reading now until you've read the previous book (and try to avoid reading anything at all about this novel). I did have the ending spoiled for me and didn't mind too much, but it took away some emotional power.

The Blue Place was compelling but quite a mixture, moving between detective, travel, and romance plots and not always focused. Stay achieves a purity of emotion and tight observation that draws on some of the best parts of The Blue Place and sheds side plots with relentless focus. This book is intense. Some of the plot structure of a detective story and a thriller remains, but as scaffolding to hold the character study and the raw emotions. I've rarely felt as close to a character as I did to Aud over the course of this story.

Stay is, on its surface, about grief. Griffith writes effectively from the perspective of a character who withdraws, who reacts to pain by seeking an environment and interactions that she can control, and who gets frustrated and impatient with the ways people try to sympathize. This is a type of reaction to grief that I don't see enough, done as deeply and well as I've ever seen it. There is a plot, an investigation, rescue, and fallout from both, but it's Aud's grief that structures this story. The reader watches Aud go through stages of grieving and acceptance close enough to traditional patterns to provide satisfying verisimilitude and unique and personal enough to distinguish her as a person.

The character study also goes deeper than grief. Stay is about the interaction of a person with the world. It is the thematic conclusion of the arc of The Blue Place, which took Aud from a detached private detective into expressed love of both another person and a place. The arc of The Blue Place was partly character-driven and partly expressed through setting. Its conclusion in Stay is wholly character-driven and follows perfectly Aud's realignment of who she wants to be and the pains and adjustments that forces on her world. The plot intrudes on her life and forces her to interact with the world again. The violence comes from and echos her anger at the intrusion of the world and its destruction of her love. Rescuing another defies her ability to withdraw, forces her back into responsibility. And the rescue and the violence lead to more complications, leading her farther into the world, forcing her to make hard decisions about the right thing to do, and confronting her with a life after grief.

One of my favorite characteristics of this story is that every action has consequences, and often not obvious ones. Life is a mess of unforseen complications. Throughout Stay, the right thing to do isn't always obvious in advance, and when it is circumstances change. I love reading about someone who makes mistakes, is honest with themselves, deals with the consequences, and then acts again. The second half of the book seems headed towards more traditional thriller territory and the world again defies Aud's expectations.

All of this is done with subtly handled exposition, emotion that comes naturally out of setting and reaction rather than direct description, and tight, effective language that is never maudlin or over-wrought. As with The Blue Place, Stay is told in the first person and crawls inside Aud's head, and Aud has no patience for extended emotional exposition. She and the reader both understand the real significance of some of her internal monologue without belaboring the point, which allows the book to keep moving forward.

Griffith succeeds here, even more than in The Blue Place, in taking a hypercompetent protagonist and making her painfully human. I found it the perfect blend between a strong plot and sufficient danger to create suspense, and deep enough observation of character to show the pain and reversals of growth. Stay centers in emotions and interactions rather than in the resolution of an external plot. The book is full of wonderful touches: the descriptions of Aud's cabin that describe her character through showing what she builds, the role of Julia that starts a bit creepy and becoming bittersweet, Aud's rhyming with her name, a late touch that would warm the heart of any reader. I can't recommend it highly enough, although do read The Blue Place first.

Followed by Always, due to be published in 2007. I will be buying that in hardcover.

Rating: 10 out of 10

Reviewed: 2006-09-17

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