Cynthia is twenty-one, off-balance, soaked in social media and ennui, and desperately waiting for something, anything, to happen. Her striking fitness instructor, Anahera, is ready to throw in the towel on her job and marriage. Emptying Cynthia’s father’s bank account, they run away a buy their boat, "Baby." As days pass, their money stash becomes depleted and a sequence of strange encounters on an empty island turn their lives in an altogether different direction.
In her young female protagonist, Jochems has succeeded in creating a highly original voice that both intrigues and repels. With strong overtones of Patricia Highsmith’s Ripley novels, Baby sees two women – Cynthia and her cherished Pilates instructor. Anahera – embark on an extraordinary journey and friendship as they uproot their lives to go on the run ... short chapters that give a propulsive feel to the book ... Jochems gives us little else in the way of backstory, which works to heighten the sense of unease we feel about Cynthia as her behaviour becomes increasingly erratic ... There are glimmers of dark humour throughout the book that help to cut through the boredom and repetitiveness of life in an enclosed space. A minor issue with the narrative is the character’s lack of objectives. Cynthia never reveals to us what she wants, not really, and it can be hard to care sometimes because of this. But Jochems does enough with the plot to keep us interested and her plain but precise prose style also helps to keep things buoyant ... In Cynthia, her reality TV-loving psychopath, she has created a fresh voice, a memorable monster who could well have her own series of books if the author chooses to go down that road. As it is, we leave Baby with an almost dirty level of zoom lens detail, as if we’ve binged on reality TV ourselves.
Cynthia, the simpering, scheming, covetous emotional sinkhole of New Zealander Annaleese Jochems’s assured debut novel, Baby, is alive and squirming; a memorable addition to the growing coterie of unapologetic antiheroines (dis)gracing the pages of contemporary fiction ... Jochem’s narrative is a tale of veneers and facades – the selves we project and curate – and so such questions lurk, but never surface. Depending on the reader, this wilful exteriority will either prove the book’s undoing, or its triumph. For we know as much about Cynthia and Anahera at the end of Baby as we do at the beginning – these two women for whom an untimely death prompts as much distress as an emptied jar of Nutella.