Caroline Moore

The irritation of Jean

Caroline Moore on Isabel Fonseca's first novel

The title of Isabel Fonseca’s first novel is promisingly witty: an ‘attachment’ is both a supplement to an e-mail, and a bond of human intimacy; and the main plot of the novel revolves around how the first may destroy the second.

Jean Hubbard is a freelance health correspondent, living on a tropical island, from which she files 1,150 words every other Wednesday. Her husband, Mark, runs ‘one of the most innovative ad agencies in London’ (he is certainly innovative in doing so from St Jacques without a computer in the house). Long-overdue post from England is delivered to their island once a month in a large bag; and the plot begins when Jean finds a tape-sealed envelope addressed to her husband and, acting on ‘a simple greedy urge to open the one real letter in the bag,’ does so.

The letter, however, is an ill-written and salacious message, signed ‘Thing 2’, informing Jean’s husband that to remind him of her ‘sweet thighs’, she has opened a new hotmail account (Naughtyboy1@hotmail.com) with attachments for him to ‘drool’ over.

Jean misses the moment to confront her husband with this letter (he is in the lavatory), and so logs on herself in the local Internet café. The attachments take a long time downloading.

This is a potentially gripping start to the novel, even if one cannot quite believe that a woman would not wait until her husband emerged from the loo (how long can that take?). And a potentially extremely intriguing idea is introduced: in answering this e-mail via her husband’s alias of ‘Thing 1’ — shades of Dr Seuss’s anarchic invaders — Jean becomes complicit. Her imagination is drawn, unwillingly stirred, into unexpected zones.

Yet this promising plot rapidly loses impetus and even interest.

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