Tooth and Claw

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A couple of years ago, a friend of mine returned from the Cannes Film Festival. She had some news.

‘You’ve inspired a movie,’ she told me.


‘An article you wrote has inspired a movie.’

The explanation was a little more mundane than I might have hoped. So I wasn’t the hottest new femme fatale, muse of movie directors and darling of Hollywood moguls. I disguised fading excitement with a cunning faux-yawn. ‘What movie was that then?’

‘It’s about a serial killer.’ She must have seen my face fall. ‘It won a prize,’ she consoled.

Later that summer I went to meet the director. I had prepared myself for an encounter with a bit of an oddball. But Jaime Rosales – a quiet 33- year-old from Barcelona – wasn’t at all what I had expected. And nor was his film. Forget dead family cats and oddly stocked fridges. Nothing much happened except a dinner party and the occasional random, off camera killing. What had inspired Rosales, it turned out, was a review I had written of a book that, the last time I went out to buy it, was shelved in the ‘Biology’ section of the shop.

It could equally well have been shelved under ‘Philosophy’ or ‘Drama’ or ‘Thrillers’. The Red Hourglass, a debut volume by a writer called Gordon Grice, explores a fundamental premise.

‘We want the world to be an ordered room,’ its author writes, ‘but in the corner there hangs an untidy web.’ Within lurks ‘an irreducible mystery, a motiveless evil in Nature’. This was the idea that had captured the imagination of the movie director. And that was the idea that had trapped me, too, the first time I came across the book. I had picked it up from a literary editor’s review pile and started to leaf, distractedly, through it. Half an hour later, I was sitting on the floor, transfixed.

Grice has written seven essays on the lives of predatory creatures – mostly creepy crawly ones,

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About the contributor

Rachel Campbell-Johnston is the art and poetry critic for The Times.

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