Annaleese Jochems

A couple of years ago, millennial pink had its moment as a cultural trend. A delicate shade of blush, it spread from Pantone to Instagram to home decor and became an aesthetic for the selfie-obsessed and supposedly most self-obsessed generation.

New Zealander Annaleese Jochems’ debut novel, Baby, mentions pink often: a pink cashmere sweater, pink lace underwear, the pink insides of a fish. Written in a gripping and slightly weird third person present, Baby tells a bizarre story of obsession and desire and takes a satirical look at the millennial condition.

Cynthia is 21 and a recent media graduate without any serious prospects who loves her social media and watching The Bachelor and is generally inane. If she listed her needs, she says, they would come down to love. She falls for her older, dazzling fitness instructor Anahera, who is ready to leave her marriage. After stealing money and grabbing the dog, the two women flee Auckland, buy an old boat named Baby and sail out into Bay of Islands, which Jochems conjures up in saturated colours.

Anahera goes swimming and Cynthia watches The Real Housewives of Auckland on her phone and scrolls through “miss you” messages from her concerned friends (“reading them is dreamy”). She decides she’s “probably in love” with Anahera and her fanaticism about her spells misfortune for the men they meet.

The characters in Baby are deeply unlikeable, except perhaps for the teenage Toby, who spray-paints graffiti on a playground. (“Dicks are classic,” Cynthia tells him). Cynthia herself lolls around on the boat and eats and grows rounder and more delusional and deranged. Anahera is manipulative and untrustworthy and Gordon, the traveller who joins them on board, is not who he seems. The trio have the silky self-indulgence of people watching themselves cry in the mirror.

Baby becomes increasingly peculiar. Some of its weirder lines would seem out of place anywhere else: “The sea is a continual yes” or “She coughs like a dog coughing up a dog.” However the cleverness of Jochems’ writing ensures Baby is not only a strange and claustrophobic book but also a pretty good one.

Still, Baby is a bit like one of the sandwiches Cynthia makes for Anahera, the strawberry jam spread too thickly on fluffy white bread. It seems exotic and sweet but on closer inspection you realise that it’s sticky and oozing and crawling with ants.

Catie McLeod

Scribe, 272pp, $29.99

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Mar 9, 2019 as "Annaleese Jochems, Baby".

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Reviewer: Catie McLeod

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