by Rana Asfour
Mia Jackson, a 21-year-old from a place she describes as ‘bumblefuck’, on the South Coast of England is a fine art student by day and waitress by night living in Nottingham.
On the fateful night that is to set in motion a series of events that will alter her life forever, Mia has managed to convince her flat mates to join her for the exclusive private viewing of celebrated award winning artist Jack Flood’s latest show ‘Now That You’re Gone, Were You Ever There?’ The same artist, who from the first opening lines of this intense thriller, we know is to die a ‘painful and premature death’ and who’s girlfriend has committed suicide mere hours before the show.
An erratic, paranoid, hyperactive, quite unpleasant and egocentric character Flood lives his life staring down a camera lens. Obsessed with recording the places he sees and the people he meets, he furiously and meticulously archives his life,
“I film everything – a sort of cultural record, if you like” he explains to Maciek his Eastern European taxi driver and aide of sorts on his late night trysts and daytime tours around Nottingham scouting for ‘models’ to add to his collection of art videos.
Mia on the other hand is, around the time she meets Flood, ‘desperate for glamour and excitement and to have a good time’. So, when she first encounters the handsome, dark-haired, thirty-year-old artist, in a black jacket, artfully mussed-up hair and an engaging, if not slightly dominant, personality, she is completely star-struck. Unaware that that she, with her simple charcoal dress, hair casually pinned up and thick eyeliner, has unknowingly been selected as ‘muse’ for the artist’s latest project. ‘I came to find a girl’, he whispers after he moves in for a kiss, ‘And that girl was you’.
When the following night Flood walks into ‘Saviour’, the restaurant where Mia works, to dine with some friends, he offers to take her out for a drink at the end of her shift. Although tired and eager to go home after a difficult night, she decides she may never get another chance with the charismatic artist and agrees.
When in the early hours of the morning Mia wakes up face down, naked, dazed and alone in Flood’s bed, she knows something terribly wrong has happened. It is only when she makes it back to the safety of her own apartment that she desperately tries to piece together the night’s events and realises the full horror of what Flood has done to her.
Bad things are also happening to other women in Mia’s area. Many are disappearing, some turning up dead, sparking a fear amongst Nottingham’s female community to the presence of a serial killer on the loose. To add to Mia’s misery, a few days after her incident with Flood, her work colleague Jenny, a chef at Saviour’s, goes missing. It doesn’t take long for Mia and the readers to start to suspect that Flood is somehow involved in these incidents in one way or the other. At one point a dreadful paranoiac fear that Flood will get away with what he has done overtakes Mia and she vows to make him pay.
When Flood is exposed and finally in a way gets what he deserves, Mia assumes she can now put the whole episode behind her only to find out that Jack Flood, artist and convicted serial killer, is more famous than ever following the posthumous release of his video diaries. Drake Gallery are also planning a retrospective and want to include “Aftermath”, a controversial piece that requires permission from Mia Jackson. With that, Mia finds herself having to confront her past yet again. However, in doing so this time round, she uncovers major relevant details that will tip the scales and alter everything once again.
The novel focuses not only on that doomed night but also on London’s art scene in general and people’s obsession with wanting to be ‘someone’ whether they have talent or not as Flood reflects at one point. Certain passages and lines of thought will make some readers pause to take a moment to reflect on the messages behind the peripheral, yet poignant stories that support the novel’s main very gripping storyline.
Hazell’s novel also sheds light on several issues Britain faces today such as social disintegration, the worsening economy, as well as the effects of economic migrants particularly those from Eastern Europe. It is a novel that ‘speaks to the great pain, delight and ridiculousness of living in contemporary society’ as Jenny Holzer once spoke of her LED light installation ‘Protect Me From What I Want’ which Hazell also mentions in her novel.
‘I Came to Find a Girl’ will open discussions on the role of women artists, the effects of feminism and what it means to be a woman in today’s world, questioning whether possibly sexual freedom has left women too vulnerable as targets for rape, for murder, for exploitation.
The bottom line is that ‘I Came to Find a Girl’ is a well-written and equally well-knit plot that isn’t short of twists and turns that will leave you guessing at every turn – And for anyone who decides to give this a go, I’d be interested to know if you guessed the ending. A thought-provoking read that makes for an excellent book club choice or one to take on winter holiday getaways. It is a disturbing, reflective book that will refuse to loosen its grip on you for quite some time long after you’ve lent it to a friend – one of the best reads this winter.
about the author:
Jaq (Jacqui) Hazell was born and brought up in Hampshire, on the south coast of England. She studied textile design at Nottingham before moving to London where her first full-time job was as a secretary at Buckingham Palace. Jacqui also worked as a greetings cards designer, journalist and magazine editor.
Jacqui’s novel, ‘I Came to Find a Girl’, was shortlisted for the Virginia Prize, and her short story, ‘The School Trip’, was shortlisted for the Jane Austen Award. She has an MA in creative writing from Royal Holloway, University of London. She lives in London with her family and Basil the dog, who has his own website: http://basilthelittledog.wordpress.com
For more on the author, check out her website 'Walk Dog, Write, Walk Dog Again' HERE.