This third novel from an already outstanding talent does not disappoint. Much of it takes place in the head of lonely and over-weight Tess, a Manchester teenager with only one friend. She is otherwise the butt of a cruel gang of contemporaries and at home her own fantasy-driven father can’t stop fussing over her. Faced by a new crisis of identity when she discovers by chance that she was in fact fathered by anonymous sperm donation, Tess retreats into elective mutism. She still talks but this time silently to a pocket torch shaped like a goldfish – hence the title. He answers her back, usually sensibly, but their on-going dialogue finally freezes out everyone real in her life however hard they try to keep in contact.
All this is hauntingly described in a novel that begins slowly but soon turns into a gripping account of a battle between still surviving sanity and near-madness. At some stage a fairly unbelievable boy-friend hoves into view, but few readers would begrudge Tess just some luck in her otherwise sad life. The same applies to an ending where she finally manages to leave her troubles behind rather too patly. But these minor cavils apart, there is much wit as well as psychological understanding in these pages. Having already scored with My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece and Ketchup Clouds Annabel Pitcher proves in this story that she is a major novelist. It will be fascinating to see what she comes up with next.