The Rift
Nina Allan
Titan Books, 400 pages
Review by Neil Williamson

The very simple truth at the heart of Nina Allan’s brilliant new novel is that between any two people there exists a chasm. No matter how close someone is to you – friends, lovers, family – no matter how completely you trust them, you can never know 100% that the things they tell you are true. In the end you can only choose to believe them, or not.

In The Rift, a teenager named Julie Rouane goes missing in 1994 in the vicinity of a local lake. The awful mundanities of an extensive police search are played out and, despite two separate and ultimately futile arrests, Julie’s fate is never discovered. Her family do their best to move on. Twenty years later, Julie’s younger sister, Selena, is contacted by a woman who claims to be Julie. She’s the right age, she looks similar and she knows things only Julie would know, and in her heart Selena knows that this really is the sister she has thought dead her entire adult life. But she can’t quite make herself believe it.

Such a set-up may be familiar to genre readers, and how you choose to interpret it may depend on your genre of choice. Crime readers might suspect murder and imposture, supernatural horror fans might think they’re seeing a ghost, and science fiction aficionados would be forgiven for going straight to the drawer marked alien abduction. And the brilliance of the way the story unfolds is any of these interpretations could be true, it just depends on which of the apparently conflicting elements presented to you, you choose to believe.

In the second part of the book, Julie tells her own story. She wasn’t abducted, she claims. Not really. Instead, she stumbled through a portal – a rift – into another world, a planet called Tristane. There she lived with a brother and sister, Cally and Noah, until she found her way back again. Julie’s detailed account of Tristane is built on a surfeit of facts that make it seem every bit as believable as our own world and, if invented, would entail a prodigious feat of imagination. And, as we read on, we come to question some of the facts we’ve learned about our own world too. The story is carefully littered with found documents that contribute veracity to this interpretation or undermine that. Julie’s high school essay on the book and film, Picnic At Hanging Rock, is an especially poignant touchstone.

By the end of The Rift, we and Selena are in the same position. The book is so well balanced, so intricately constructed that, knowing everything that we know, we still don’t have a definitive truth. But do we need it? If you want it to be a science fiction story of reconciliation, it is. If you want it to be a story of dangerous delusion, it can be that too.

What is in no doubt is that Nina Allan’s The Rift is a high class piece of fiction and a triumph of storytelling.

This review was originally published in Shoreline of Infinity issue 9.