It is the night of Maro’s party, a celebration of his anniversary with the Estate, home to a secret community of sleepless tenants. A new arrival, Liv, spooked by a phone call, panics and runs. As she exits, she collides with a stranger, Adam, and everything changes.
Liv believes she has found refuge, but the Estate is loath to let its guests leave. She soon suspects that escape is now impossible, not just from the past but from the building itself.
The Nocturnals is a noir mystery, daring and visceral, where nothing is what it seems, the first English novel by Aleksandra Rychlicka.
Age Range: Adult
Size: 198mm x 129mm
Format: Paperback Original
Word Count: 50,000
Published: March 2021
RRP: UK £7.99
Those who can’t sleep can’t love, Adam whispers. Their hearts are broken, their minds weary.
During the day the music sounds softer. It’s an illusion; Maro keeps it on full volume at all times. But maybe there is a correlation between light and sound. Maybe the night carries less distractions and the tunes feel enough then. Maybe the day requires more effort to stay awake.
Maro pops an ice cube in his mouth and lets it melt. His eyelids grow heavy. He needs all his strength to keep them open. He presses the headphones against his ears. Even the tiniest upturn in sound can make a difference.
He cannot afford to lose energy. It is crucial not to make a single unnecessary move. And so he sits still, staring into space. Then something appears in his vision. A silhouette. His reflex is dulled. Only when the person vanishes from his sight, he realises it was the woman.
Alice laughs out loud; too loud. She’s all like this: too much. Overdressed, overscented, overprepared. Like all the people who feel they are not enough, Alice has been trained to overcompensate.
It’s not the noise that bothers Liv; sleep deprivation feels like walking around wearing earplugs. From where Liv stands watching, the door between the living room and the kitchen, she can hardly even hear a sound.
But it’s Alice’s gestures while laughing, her facial expressions, the shaking of her head, that feel excessive. She throws herself around the couch like a fish taken out of water. And like a fish she gasps in-between laughing, making sure she re-fuels the oxygen to keep her going. It’s a performance for Adam, magnified by wine and the excitement of their unexpected proximity.
After a minute or two, his body slowly gives in, begins to relax. He watches it float on the surface; his knees like little bare islands erupting from the sea of ice. He checks the time; three minutes have gone by, leaving him with five minutes to kill.
He lets himself close his eyes. The space inside him feels motionless. His neurons, just like the blood vessels, seem to have shrunk; he feels nothing. The voices are silent; frozen. The ice transforms his inner war zone into a safe space.
Maro tightens the grip on the rim of the bathtub and lowers himself. He rests the back of his head on ice, letting it submerge in the cold bath. He, too, sinks into the chasm. He’s now neither asleep nor fully awake; neither alive nor dead.
Aleksandra Rychlicka is a second language writer. Born in Poland, she is an alumni of The United World College of the Adriatic in Italy and the University College Utrecht in the Netherlands.
Her Polish debut novel, Opowiadaj mnie zawsze od nowa, was published in 2015, but she has since been writing primarily in English. The resulting cultural estrangement and in-betweenness constitute the backbone of all her creative work.
Aside from fiction, Rychlicka writes for the screen, frequently collaborating with filmmakers who also wrestle with cultural fluidity. In 2019 she received a doctorate in comparative literature from University College London.
Considering that English is not the author’s first language, this is a remarkable book – mysterious, enigmatic and intriguing to the end. I don’t recall having read anything like it, with its unique setting and noir mood. If you can work out what happened before the revelation in the finale, then hats off to your detective skills. Enjoy.