Tessa is a successful writer who develops a friendship, first by correspondence and then in person, with Charlie, a ruggedly handsome philosopher and scholar based in Los Angeles. While Tessa's husband Milton enjoys Charlie's company on his visits to the East Coast, Charlie's wife Wah is a different case, and she proves to be both adversary and conundrum to Tessa. Wah's traditional femininity and subservience to her husband strike Tessa as weaknesses, and she scoffs at the sacrifices Wah makes as adoptive mother to a Burmese girl, Htet, once homeless on the streets of Kuala Lumpur. But Wah has a kind of power too, especially over Charlie, and the conflict between the two women leads to a martini-fueled declaration by Tessa that Wah is "an insult to womankind." As Tessa is forced to deal with the consequences of her outburst and considers how much she is limited by her own perceptions, she wonders if Wah is really as weak as she has seemed, or if she might have a different kind of strength.
The conceit could come off as gimmicky, but it doesn’t; Craig’s narrative is masterful and self-assured. Her greatest accomplishment, though, is the character of Tessa ... It’s a risk to have such a resolutely unsympathetic character as the nexus of a narrative, but Craig sketches Tessa beautifully, acknowledging her humanity but making clear her capacity for monstrous actions ... Artful in its prose and unsparing in the way it looks at envy and its corrosive effects, My Nemesis is a riveting novel about the stories people tell themselves to justify their shortcomings and what happens when they start to believe these lies.
Tessa, the narrator of My Nemesis, proves it’s possible to be delightfully pretentious ... That readers can see past Tessa’s narration to her failures is the first delicious trick in Charmaine Craig’s new novel, which has a few up its sleeve ... This is also a novel of ideas, where people debate motives, values, femininity, motherhood ... Tessa is a brilliant cross between the autobiographical fiction of Rachel Cusk and the untrustworthy narrator Charles Kinbote in Vladimir Nabokov’s Pale Fire. Her narration is revealing and not; her pomposity is porous, funny ... With a narrator who is utterly convinced of her own rightness, there will be more twists and surprises. But those I can’t spoil. They’re too good.