Book Review: Scrap // Calla Henkel

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Following on from the success of her debut novel Other People’s Clothes, Calla Henkel’s second novel Scrap is another dark tale of obsession and mystery, with a nod to the sometimes insidious nature of an obsession with true-crime. 

Artist and crafter Esther is broken-up with by her fiancé and is living in the studio home they shared together in the mountains. Isolated and dealing with her own troubled past, Esther accepts a commission by the wealthy Naomi Duncan to create a collection of scrapbooks of memories for her husband’s birthday. When Naomi dies suddenly during the project, Esther becomes obsessed with solving the case. Her compulsion to find out the truth isn’t helped by the fact that she spends almost every waking minute listening to true-crime podcasts.

Reading the novel and recognising descriptions of podcasts I have listened to myself made me connect with Esther in a not always comfortable way. If Henkel is making a commentary on the obsessive and intrusive nature of true crime, it is an issue that many readers will be complicit in, though hopefully without going to the extreme measures that Esther does.

In Scrap Henkel has crafted a novel that explores what it means both to archive and to create and how truth and meaning can be manipulated, just as Henkel manipulates the reader. An epigraph quotes the philosopher Jacques Derrida as saying that there is a “compulsive, repetitive, and nostalgic desire for the archive…” and Esther later muses on his belief that “the process of archiving creates as much as it records.” This is true not only of the presentation of the Duncans that Esther is creating through her craft, but also of the narrative she begins to form around Naomi’s death and her views and memories of her own past. We also see Naomi’s teenage daughter Tabitha create a narrative and archive of her own life through her online presence, perhaps the modern and normalised version of scrapbooking.

As she finds her life unravelling around her and the past continuing to haunt her, Esther as a character is simultaneously flawed, unlikeable and yet somehow still sympathetic. She is both a victim and a perpetrator. There is a “car crash” element of getting sucked into the events as they unfold, just as Esther is sucked into real-life tales of murders and missing people. Henkel has a talent for creating characters and situations that are strange, twisted and compelling.

Whilst the concept of a literary thriller set in the unlikely world of craft and scrapbooking may leave you scratching your head, I found myself devouring this novel. If you enjoyed Other People’s Clothes or are a fan of darkly weird novels with troubled narrators with a vengeful streak and a spot of arson thrown into the mix too, then I think you will enjoy Scrap.

Words by Nicola Varley


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