Something dangerous is in the air. When Natalie arrives in the quiet town of Norton, Lizzie is drawn irresistibly to the wild, free-spirited new girl and her strange little brother, Philip. But her world is about to be turned upside down. For Natalie has plans – plans to spin a dark web of revenge against those she believes have wronged her and her family. And Lizzie is soon trapped at its centre.
The Seeing opens with a dramatic prologue, introducing us to the main themes of this story: hidden danger, friendship and betrayal. Hendry masterfully combines a sense of small-town paranoia with the intense relationship that can develop between young girls to create something altogether more sinister than the usual teen friendship plot line.
Lizzie is a normal teenage girl, albeit perhaps a little more naive than she would be these days – she’s growing up in a seaside town in the 1950s, with World War Two a part of her recent past, its impact still reverberating around the small community of Norton. She looks up to her older sister but wishes she could be more grown up too, and Natalie, a newcomer from the wrong side of the tracks gives her that opportunity. She recognises in Natalie a different life and what seems to be a more confident, adult attitude, although we soon come to realise this is because Natalie has had to grow up too soon.
Not only does Natalie bring with her an air of devil-may-care, she also brings a conspiracy. She’s convinced that evil cannot simply disappear and that, although Hitler is dead and the Nazis have been defeated, there are Nazis in hiding, lying in wait for the right opportunity to band together and wreck havoc once again. Natalie sees evidence of these LONs (Left-Over Nazis) in Lizzie’s sleepy coastal town, and Lizzie, tired of her everyday ordinary existence, is drawn in to her schemes.
But Natalie is also a jealous friend, keen to be in charge and to control Lizzie and Philip with rituals and intrigues. Philip and Lizzie become friends with a visiting painter, Hugo but this puts him directly in the line of fire, along with other who seem a little different, on the fringes of society, and those pointed out by Philip in his “visions”, which seem more to Lizzie like fits or part of an illness. The sinister atmosphere builds with Natalie’s desperation, as the children’s actions start to have an impact on those around them. The book’s conclusion both shocks and moves.
The prose style of The Seeing is tight and punchy, the characters by turns charming, intoxicating and chilling, while life in a down-at-heel resort in the 1950s is evoked effortlessly through carefully placed descriptive phrases and details. It’s no wonder The Seeing found a place on the Costa 2012 shortlist; despite the fact that it’s only a short book – 170 pages in total – Hendry creates a truly chilling relationship which made me think of Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood, and a thriller reminiscent of Michael Frayn’s Spies.
The Seeing is out now in paperback from Corgi, at £6.99