Dear Reader: a letter from Karen Perry
One day, at the beginning of a new term at university, history lecturer David Connolly, is at his desk, when a student knocks on his office door. Meet Zoe. She is tentative, and nervous, and what she reveals to David changes his life and his family’s life for ever.
David is married to Caroline and they both get to tell the story of how Zoe entered their lives. For Karen and I, the writing duo who make up the author of this fiction, the composition of the novel is like a game of tennis, back and forth we go until the ‘game’ takes shape. The twists and turns a collaboratively written novel engender mean that we are, individually, as much a reader as we are writer. It’s a curious and unpredictable process, but one which allows us to dramatize the complexity of the characters’ inner lives and what happens to them in the world with what we hope is a convincing and captivating perspective.
After all, the family dynamic is complex thing – allegiances are forged and broken within the space of a day, sometimes before breakfast is finished. The pressures of a marriage bond are tested. Children’s expectations, a partner’s needs, one’s own desires – how are they all to be accommodated? Throw into the mix a stranger, an intruder – someone you are not sure whether you can trust, someone who makes demands on you and your loved ones’ time and energy and you have the recipe for intrigue. Of course this is nothing out of the ordinary as such – it’s the stuff of people’s lives, real people, and not just the ones who inhabit our imaginations. For we wanted what you read to be believable, to be plausible. That there is a crime committed, that there is an element of the unexpected, is not so far-fetched as the label ‘fiction’ might suggest. And so this novel, Girl Unknown, is the testimony of two of the stories’ survivors.
They have weathered the storm, but it has changed them too. Set on the campus of University College Dublin, on the Southside of the city, a campus we both know well, we were more than happy to step back into the world of the student – and reflect on the vagaries of university experience as it shapes and directs a life. The university teaches us how to cope with life – or how to live – our educators would like to persuade us, but what if it were the site of conflict, of a knowledge which was dangerous, both to you and the ones you hold dear?
That is a different kind of knowledge. One only experience can teach us.