Jan Harris is aged seventeen, living in a country village. She wants to study millinery in London. Two months before the point at which the book starts, Jan has been in treatment for clinical depression. Within her family this period of Jan’s life is known as ‘the blip’. Now Jan and her best friend Chelsea are thrilled to spend a week with Chelsea’s aunt Julie in London. Both young women are making plans for their education. Chelsea wants to become a writer and to this end plans to study English literature at King’s College or University College London.
Jan however has two secrets. She wants to find her estranged father whom she believes to live in London. In secret she has hired a Private Investigator to track her father down. Jan used her mother’s credit card to hire the detective. Will she be in trouble when her mother gets the bill? And will she succeed in finding her father? But she has another secret, a secret from herself. The reader becomes aware that Jan’s mental health is once again spiralling out of control. It is questionable whether she will recognise her own situation and find the help she needs to combat her demons – and do so in time to avoid serious problems.
In Bowles’s book Jan is the first person narrator. At the same time her mental equilibrium is out of control. For these reasons Jan becomes a perfect exemplar of a well-known literary phenomenon, the unreliable narrator. The reader must not take as gospel truth everything that Jan tells us, even when she seems to be reporting a matter of fact. Bowles tells in detail the painful story of her protagonist’s mental suffering. For this reason the book sometimes becomes very far from a comfortable read. Crucially however Jan is not simply a representation of her symptoms, a walking syndrome. Instead she is a three-dimensional fictional character about whom the attentive and sympathetic reader will learn a great deal.