Going Loco was my third novel, published in 1999 by Headline Review. It came out of a love of old-fashioned gothic fiction — in particular, a love of the tradition of “doubles” literature, which includes Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Vladimir Nabokov’s Despair, Edgar Allen Poe’s “William Wilson”, and lots of disturbing stories by jumpy Scandinavians. Set in present-day London (with subsidiary journeys to Sweden), it principally concerns a hard-pressed woman writer called Belinda, toiling over a book about the history of literary doubles, who achieves her dream and pays the price: she acquires a cleaning lady who is much more than a cleaning lady. The cleaning lady starts to take over responsibility for the cooking, shopping, cleaning and so on. Then, while Belinda nests upstairs, growing fat and wheezy (as authors do), the cleaning lady briskly supplants Belinda in every other aspect of her life. “If you don’t want to go to the opera with your mother, why don’t I go instead?” says the cleaning lady, and in the circumstances, the suggestion seems quite reasonable.
So she goes fashion shopping with Belinda’s mother; she consoles Belinda’s lonely husband; she sacks Belinda’s agent; she goes on TV on Belinda’s behalf. Far from being outraged by these liberties, Belinda is mainly grateful and relieved. In Going Loco, neither party knows where to draw the line in this benignly symbiotic arrangement (which goes to quite upsetting extremes); meanwhile other double trouble occurs elsewhere. Belinda’s husband Stefan may be an imposter, or even a clone; her best friend Maggie (a failed Shakespearean actress) gets romantically embroiled with a pair of identical twins.
The point of Belinda’s story is that, whereas in traditional gothic fiction, men have their identities hijacked by other men and suffer existential terror about it, for a modern, driven woman (i.e. me, of course) the idea of surrendering all this pressure to someone else is actually quite attractive. I mean to say, its merits surely outweigh its disadvantages. The famous work-life dilemma of modern life is solved at one ingenious stroke. If someone else makes the dinner and goes out with your husband, how far would they have to go before you said “Enough”?
“It’s mad, this,” friends said, supportively, when they read Going Loco. But I enjoyed writing it enormously. I even went to Sweden. It sold pitifully few copies, and had a daft cover with a pair of silver Abba boots, which made sense if you’d read the book, but actually misled readers into thinking it was a book set in the Seventies, when it was actually very contemporary. It has now been read, unabridged, by the perfectly edgy Belinda Lang for BBC Audio.
NB – BBC audio for this book is a library edition only