Tracy Ryan

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Tracy Ryan

Claustrophobia is the taut, compelling story of a young Perth wife who sets about to protect her husband by stalking his ex-lover, but unexpectedly falls into a passionate affair and a world of lies.

In a novel that possesses the dark wit, psychological insight and narrative momentum of a Patricia Highsmith, Tracy Ryan captures the disturbing elements that sometimes lurk beneath the surface of a marriage. The realities of obsessive attachment and social isolation are explored through a deft and thought-provoking look at a complex personality and a plot that twists its page-turning way into our psyche.


Beginning renovations can often unearth some unpleasant things beneath the floorboards or behind walls, yet when Pen Barber is cleaning before work begins on the bush-tangled Perth home she shares with her husband Derrick, it’s the letter she finds within a room’s walls that causes her carefully constructed happiness to crumble. The letter, unopened and marked ‘Return to Sender’, was written by Derrick years before to a past lover, pleading for another chance with the older college professor who broke apart his life as a student. Reading it completely disarms Pen, someone who had thought their life together was built on solid foundations. Determined to find out why this woman held such appeal, and to safeguard their marriage, Pen sets out to find the destructive, heartbreaking Kathleen Nancarrow, but instead finds a different person altogether: poetic, clever, beautiful, interesting – and interested. As her motivations to pursue Kathleen change from revenge and distrust to something else entirely, Pen begins to transform her low-key life into one shot through with lies and want. As Pen puts it: ‘Lately it was as if she could see only the world’s gaping chasms and sharp edges. All the ways it might allow you to do a little damage in return.’

Reading Claustrophobia, I found myself suspicious of every moment, worrying at the actions and words of everyone within the book. The tension seemed to burrow through the pages, up my fingers and into my subconscious. It became a heightened reading experience, as alarming as its title and as beautiful as a holiday brochure. An internal rollercoaster at a psychologist’s theme park, this is a novel of dissatisfaction and unknown desire, of fleeting moments and of having a desperate need to seek privacy in a city where two million people is still not enough to hide within, and where – eventually – you will be found.

Fiona Hardy blogs about Crime Fiction at and puts together the Dead Write column for the Readings Monthly newsletter.

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