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Black Cat

Martyn Bedford <em>Penguin, 232pp, £5.99 </em>

ISBN 014027289

Why is Martyn Bedford not better known? He certainly deserves to be, as his novels are among the most vividly imagined of any of the younger British writers. Part of the problem, I suspect, is that, because he prefers to write against the template of a thriller, his publishers - Transworld and now Penguin - seem at a loss as to how to market him. Is he a literary or popular novelist? Is he the heir to Ian McEwan or Barbara Vine? In fact, he is entirely his own man, and his fiction is as reflective as it is compulsive. His third novel, The Houdini Girl, is one of the most convincing meditations on loss and the unknowability of other people that I have read in contemporary fiction, and yet it is also a powerful thriller, steeped in the degradation of the skin trade.

His latest novel, Black Cat, is set in a remote English moorland town, where two disaffected young people, in retreat from their own unhappiness, unite to track down a wild cat that may or may not be haunting the surrounding countryside. The book begins conventionally enough, with some thin character sketches, but soon deepens into something altogether more impressive: an authentic metaphysical quest narrative. The final scene, in which a damaged young woman pursues her male attacker across a snow-blighted landscape, is wonderfully persuasive.

Jason Cowley is editor of the New Statesman. He has been the editor of Granta, a senior editor at the Observer and a staff writer at the Times.

This article first appeared in the 16 July 2001 issue of the New Statesman, How long have we got?