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I was drawn to reading this novel after Unsworth appeared in the New Blood Panel at Harrogate this year. She was a very interesting, eloquent and engaging contributor, and was also very open about the background to her novel. Unsworth has a background in the music industry – the publishing arm of it – and has been a journalist on Melody Maker.
From in her input on that panel I knew this novel would be dark and "The Not Knowing" is a novel of noir, without a doubt. Set in London and its darker trenches of society, habitat and habit, this is not a novel for the cosy reader. The title itself is a draw, as it’s the "not knowing" about something that drives you on and eats you up, until you finally get the information you seek, or let go.
In a nutshell: back in 1992, Diana Kemp, the main protagonist, is a writer for "Lux", a new magazine with big editorial aspirations. Famous film director, Jon Jackson, who has recently set trends with his cult gangster movie "Bent" – every other male is now dressing like a Kray twin – is found dead. His body is discovered beneath the railway arches in Camden Town where he was brutally murdered, the scene a re-enactment from his movie. Lux is in possession of the last ever interview with Jackson, obtained the night before he was murdered, so it’s no surprise when the police turn up…
Unsworth has a love of crime fiction and crime fiction itself is woven into the plot, along with music and film. I found the novel a little unusual and unexpected in its progression. There were things that worked for me and things that didn’t:
It’s a gritty novel, and one that will tell you of the effects of a physical attack and death, muscle relaxations included. Unsworth said at Harrogate that she wanted to "…talk about, and hence expose our ‘nasties under the carpet’, particularly violence against women and children". This, she achieves.
In conclusion, I’d say that if you enjoy reading noir, this is a novel you’d definitely appreciate. Ditto if you seek a novel that opens your eyes and delves under the heavy blankets of contemporary society. (In reality, have we delved those blankets since 1992? I think not.) If you prefer a cosy, stay away. I suspect that readers who enjoy Jake Arnott’s novels would also enjoy this novel.
I read "The Not Knowing" and appreciated its page turning story as well as its goals, but I have to admit I’m not a noir reader. If you read noir, this is a good addition to your collection.