Nightbitch by Rachel Yoder - review by Martha Sprackland

Martha Sprackland

Shaggy Dog Story?



Harvill Secker 256pp £14.99

The protagonist in Rachel Yoder’s debut novel of transfiguration and maternal rage has lost her sense of identity. Indeed, we know her first simply as ‘the mother’, and then by an assumed name, Nightbitch, a moniker she takes for herself after worrying that she is turning into a dog – extreme hair-growth, new fangs, tail and all. The book is sharp and smart, if at times as disorderly as Nightbitch’s own increasingly feral inner life. The portrayal of a stay-at-home mother frustrated by her husband’s freedom and unstudied self-interest, the perceived perfection of other mothers and the impossibility of creating art rises to a pitch of hysteria that gives the book a feverish mood and an edge of unreality. Nightbitch’s lycanthropic symptoms are cast into doubt. Is she perimenopausal? Does she have a cyst? Is she suffering from psychosis? Will a library book on ‘magical women’ provide answers?

The writing is often florid (mothers are eternal, books are tomes, mother and son frolic and dig and snack on raw steak), but Yoder is also capable of restraint. Simmering away beneath the surface of the book is the behaviour of the husband: his inability to take the initiative, to

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