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3.6 out of 5 stars11
3.6 out of 5 stars
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What an interesting novel this is. But though a page-turner, as any thriller should be, with a high-octane literary style, it's difficult to know how to approach it. It appears to be a psychological thriller, but somehow, by the end, it becomes a ghost story. Or is it a species of magic realism as applied to the thriller? Or a modern take on the minotaur myth? Or science-fiction: Toby, the narrator, experiences mind-trips into icy landscapes, possibly through his computer; the central male figure, Roehm, is everywhere yet no where, apparently a scientist engaged in animal experiments yet with no ID trace at all. Or maybe it's a tricksy example of the unreliable narrator - most of it is told from 19 year old Toby's point of view, yet not in a language any teenager would be capable of using. This blurring of the genres may puzzle, but it does give an added layer of interest to the novel, making it more intriguing. On the other hand, it does risk confusing any reader expecting the standard realistic treatment. It creates narrative instability, an air of doubt and mystery; the reader skates on slippery ground.

Duncker uses the classic plot device of introducing a stranger into a tightly closed family circle, creating chaos: Roehm, the lover of Toby's mother, stirs up desire, fear, jealousy, violence, extreme anxiety; he comes between them all. The tension lies in two questions: who is Roehm and what does he want? Neither question is satisfactorily answered, leaving an uneasy space in which the reader is forced to speculate. On a literary-mythical level, Roehm is the minotaur; he is the devil in Faust (we have an opera scene to point this out); he is a sort of Frankenstein monster raised from the deep; he's a ghost. His menace is palpable, his disguise beguiling; he is an impressive creation, but a puzzling one.

One can, of course, take this as a psychological thriller and be satisfied with that. All the uncertainties can be ascribed to the imagination of Toby, a skilful narrator. Perhaps he is a gifted child, a precocious writer, reinventing himself; he is obsessed by his mother to the point of incest, and deeply troubled by the appearance of his mother's lover, who might be the father who abandoned him before birth - thus, no ordinary teenager. The one chapter written in the voice of his mother, giving us an account of his inception, is, on this reading, problematic - but did she write it, or did the boy? Who knows? The author certainly isn't letting on: no framing devices here to let you know how the text came to be written.

I suspect that when I was younger and a less experienced reader, I would find this genre-blurring, this literary teasing, annoying. Now I welcome it for the textual puzzles it throw up, the multiple interpretations it invites (which makes it a good choice for reading group discussions). But I have to say the surprise ending is hard to swallow and seems quite out of keeping with the rest of the story. It sounds a false note which reverberates back through the narrative - which, of course, may have been intentional; it certainly makes you rethink the whole thing.

The story grips you, though, and the language impresses: that's the important thing.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 5 October 2009
I am still not really sure what I think of this book - it is quite different from her others and has a disturbing quality that is seductive and repellent by turns. Isobel is a successful avante garde artist and lives with her son Toby, who is 18 as the novel begins. They live in blissful disarray and mutual adoration. At least until the mysterious Roehm comes into their lives, a vast minotaur of a man, whose calm, almost abnormally attentive persona proves fascinating to both mother and son. But Isobel and Toby's bond has an edge of illicit intimacy and although Toby at first wants to compete with his mother for the attention of Roehm - and sensuously, decadantly delicious though this may seem, they have a fearful discovery to make.

The reader is gradually coerced into complicit acceptance - rather as Toby and Isobel are with Roehm, but the back-story which gradually emerges involves violent and sinister events which slowly reveal the ghost at the feast of family transgressions.

This is beautifully composed and elegantly intelligent and the emotional engagement is acutely moving and profound, but at the same time the reader is asked to make something of a leap into the darkness, especially towards the end of the book. Duncker leaves us, on this occasion, with a shocking mystery not only unsolved, but insoluble.
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on 8 October 2006
The book is initially very appealing: the main characters are painted well; the story begins nicely; and my interest was easily held. However, the plot lost momentum in the middle, and petered out at the end. I'm still not sure what some of the plot lines were all about.

There are two sex scenes. The first one is between mother and son. The second one is violent. If this turns you on, then buy the book. I found it pretty unpleasant.

The book also contains one of the tales from Duncker's "Seven Tales of Sex and Death". This tale was nasty.
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on 24 June 2012
Having read Ms. Duncker's 'Hallucinating Foucault' (one of my favourite books of all time) I decided to try another.
'Deadly Space Between' is a very different story but just as enthralling. It keeps you guessing all the way. I'm yet to find another author with quite her poetic style. I'll pick this up for a second read in a few years' time.
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on 14 May 2003
I bought this book simply from the blurb and I was not disappointed! The characters are compelling and likable and the ending is shocking. The seemingly normal beginning of everyday events quickly draw you into the characters bizarre lives and from there the story quickly begins to unfold. You cannot fail to love this book and the characters and the story stay with you even after you have put the book down. You must read this book!
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on 1 July 2002
this is a great book. very well written, pacey but deep. Treads the boundary between the real and the imaginary with great skill and control. It also made me laugh out loud in parts which, for me, is a rarity with novels. very strong and disturbing characterisations especially Roehm. PD is not scared of tackling matters sexual and grotesque with tremendous results. one of the best books i've read for a long while.
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on 21 April 2003
The world to introverted eighteen year old Tobias Hawk is one surrounded by women. His artist mother Iso raises him in a careless fashion having been cut off from her religious family for giving birth to him at the age of fifteen. The brutalities of the world do not touch his mother who is protected in a self serving way by her wealthy aunt Lucy. Toby's own obsessions with Iso are a dark underlay to his life and this is all he wants. But it all changes when his mother takes a lover.
The enigmatic Roehm fulfills many roles to Toby and Iso - father, lover, initiator to the rites of worldly men. The relationship lines are blurred and Toby finds himself torn between the urge to keep the life he has always known pure from other influences and his desires for Roehm. Neither mother or son can resist the dark attraction of the mysterious Roehm, man without a past, and seemly impossible to base in the reality of the present. Roehm seems to know their unvoiced thoughts and fears, and is a master in manipulation.
The searches Toby makes on the Internet and with the assistance of Liberty, Lucy's young lover, bring nothing but alpine references and hallucinogenic experiences for the bewildered Toby. In an effort to save Iso, who Toby believes has attempted to murder Roehm in a fit of passion, Toby finishes the killing and pursues the fleeing Iso to Switzerland where the answers to his questions about his parentage and about Roehm come not from the living world.
This moody, erotically questioning novel travels in fits and starts with a more satisfying pick up in pace in the final pages. This may be too late for the reader who could be easily frustrated in the pompous self indulgent wanderings of Toby's mind, whose world is truly so narrow that nothing not effecting his immediate existence is completely irrelevant to him. The child wanting to be a man fails to grow throughout the novel and the reader may not really care what happens as an outcome despite many unanswered questions.
Andrea Thompson
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on 6 June 2004
I'm only half-way into the book at the moment so dare say I shouldn't be reviewing it yet but I just can't wait.
After reading 'Hallucinating Foucault' I was prompted to read 'The Deadly Space Between', simlilarly to that it has the same mature text, eloquent metaphors and beautiful descriptiveness. It is however not as immediate as 'Hallucinating Foucault' and for any reader looking for their first foray into Duncker's work I would recommend this as apposed to 'The Deadly Space Between' to begin with before progressing to.
In various parts of these two novels it is plain to see just how fabulous the author is.
I won't go into detail around the actual plot as it isn't fair to as I haven't actually finished reading it but it is completely captivating (given some patience) and challenging almost.
This is definately recommended.
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on 11 July 2011
Yet again I find myself amazed by her insight into the dark sides of human behaviour, by the power of her storytelling, and by the things she can tell you about the nature of desire.
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on 3 December 2013
I was assigned to read this in a class for college- I could not finish, because I was disturbed by the incest relations in this story. I strongly, strongly advise any reader interested in reading it, that there are sensational scenes that fill in the gap between the sex scenes (one which is between the mother and son) and it's just...I was so uncomfortable I can't bring myself to fathom any thoughts of it.

I do not enjoy Freud in any such way; the man does have some ideas, but when it comes to the oedipal-ness, I automatically block. If Freud is your thing, along with psychology-related workings, or if your just don't see anything wrong with the nature of mother and son in this type of fashion then get the book.

If not, seriously, this book is disturbing.
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