I Have Some Questions For You- Rebecca Makkai (Fleet 2023)

I first discovered Rebecca Makkai in 2020 when I read her 2018 AIDS-era novel “The Great Believers” in one of the grimmest periods of lockdown.  I described the sensation of “feeling purged by the end but with the sense that I had received a tremendous reading experience.” It ended up as my Book Of The Year.  This, her 5th novel is the first since then.

It features a first-person narrative by Bodie Kane, a girl who found herself, due to unusual circumstances, as an outsider in an elite boarding school in the 1990s.  Her narrative is set in the present day and is addressed to one of her old teachers.  As an adult Bodie has never been able to move far away from the murder of an ex-room-mate, found drowned after a late-night visit to the pool.  Twenty-three years later she is back at the school teaching a podcast course and one of the students is manipulated by Bodie into re-examining the case.

This is a privileged American academic world largely within two time-zones, when Bodie was a student and then as a visiting staff member.  Since then, much has happened- different attitudes, MeToo and cancel culture means the later intake are a very different set of students, less accepting of the young Bodie’s environment and in the meantime a black man has been languishing in prison accused of a murder that an online community, which Bodie is very much a part of, seems never totally convinced he committed.

The three time settings gives a clever slant.  The three levels of looking back all presented in a form of an address to a member of staff Bodie had not seen since schooldays provides a fascinating set of perspectives.  As this structure demands, it is a very tight, controlled piece with lots of ruminations of the same events all stemming back to one night after a school production of “Camelot”.  I can, as a British reader, find writing set in American educational establishments rather distancing- it’s such a different world and there was a point where I felt my interest would wane but a leap forward to the post-Covid world regained my enthusiasm.

Within the narrative there is a nifty use of references to cases of abuse and murder, in an off-hand, suggestive manner, for example, she relates listening to a radio news item at one point and mentions was it the one where such and such happened, or the one where…or the one where.. This happens quite a few times within the text and is a sobering reminder that the case that Bodie experienced is one of so many where violence has destroyed lives.

I was impressed and involved but not in the same way as I was with “The Great Believers” where I felt a great emotional pull.  This is a very different book and is a highly contemporary and relevant one.

I Have Some Questions For You is published in the UK by Fleet, an imprint of Little Brown Viking on 23rd February 2023.  Many thanks to the publishers and Netgalley for the advance review copy. 

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