After I finished this book I kind of just sat there for a while. Stunned and reeling. To say that this book is disturbing would be an understatement....moreAfter I finished this book I kind of just sat there for a while. Stunned and reeling. To say that this book is disturbing would be an understatement. It is disturbing in a very obvious big way because of the subject matter but also in a very subtle and understated way because there is very little actual violence or gore on the pages.
A repressed, lonely, unstable young man, Frederick Clegg wins the lottery. Clegg has been fascinated and secretly "in love" with Miranda, a beautiful art student for quite some time. So when his aunt and cousin (who are his entire family) very conveniently depart for Australia to never return, he gradually starts putting a plan together to kidnap Miranda and keep her captive. It's a bit of a contrived set up but an easy one to swallow in the context of the book.
Clegg is a butterfly collector and classic sociopath, completely unconcerned for and unable to empathise with the feelings of others, even the object of his devotion, and with a very strong tendency to rationalise and blame others for his behaviour. Miranda is simply an object to be put on a pedestal.
"I am one in a row of specimens. It’s when I try to flutter out of line that he hates me. I’m meant to be dead, pinned, always the same, always beautiful."
Miranda's feelings and desires are as irrelevant to Clegg as those of a postage stamp to a philatelist. We are told of the preparations he makes to kidnap Miranda in a cold emotionless voice and as though most of them happened by accident without any real intent on his part.
"The van was the one really big luxury I gave myself. It had a special fitting in the back compartment, a camp bed you could let down and sleep in; I bought it to carry all my equipment for when I moved round the country, and also I thought if I got a van I wouldn’t always have to be taking Aunt Annie and Mabel around when they came back. I didn’t buy it for the reason I did use it for. The whole idea was sudden, like a stroke of genius almost."
"In one of the Sunday papers I saw an advert in capitals in a page of houses for sale. I wasn’t looking for them, this just seemed to catch my eye as I was turning the page."
"All this time I never thought it was serious. I know that must sound very strange, but it was so. I used to say, of course, I’ll never do it, this is only pretending."
Yes, I was tidying in the nude, tripped over a hoover and my penis just got stuck in the nozzle, honest.
Yet all the time the reader can see Clegg going through very thorough and meticulous preparations for what he is about to do, buying a van, a house, outfitting and securing the cellar, cutting himself off from all outside contact, trying to foresee every eventually and all of this in a remarkably detached and unfeeling way, except for some flickers of pride, a sense of achievement and satisfaction at his own work and cleverness.
Many readers appear to have felt a lot of sympathy for Clegg, yet I have to confess I never did. He does not appear able to see that what he is doing is morally objectionable and there are clearly some abandonment issues from his childhood (his father died when he was two and his mother left him to be brought up by a strict and emotionally vacuous aunt) but there is nothing particularly horrific lurking in his past, no particular trauma that might explain how he became what he is. Here's what happened but I never meant it to turn out the way it did, it's not my fault, there is nothing wrong with me is the leitmotif of Clegg's narration.
"I thought, I can't get to know her in the ordinary way, but if she's with me, she'll see my good points, she'll understand. There was always the idea she would understand. I only wanted to do the best for her, make her happy and love me a bit."
Yet this is interspersed with such obvious meaningless little lies and self-delusions that he almost reads as pathetic. Despicable as well as horrifying.
The middle portion of the book is narrated from Miranda's point of view in a form of a diary she secretly keeps. While this does cover the same time period as Clegg's narration so we effectively get two versions of the same event, I thought it was quite powerful and necessary in terms of showing Miranda as a person, with her own feelings, hopes desires and flaws.
This was a very unsettling and uncomfortable read but one that I think will stay with me for a long time. It painted a vivid and complex picture of the power dynamic between captive and captor and, though it feeds on that basic fear of evil things lurking in the dark and being powerless, unable to escape that evil, it never felt emotionally manipulative. (less)
If I had to sum up this book in one word, that word would be fun. This is not a message book or a portrayal of anything. It is just an exceptionally e...moreIf I had to sum up this book in one word, that word would be fun. This is not a message book or a portrayal of anything. It is just an exceptionally entertaining urban fantasy with a feisty queen of witty come backs heroine and a dark mysterious sex god of a hero with tortured past, no thinking required. It was precisely what I was looking for.
The heroine, Charley Davidson ("There's a certain responsibility that comes with having a name like Charley Davidson. It brooks no opposition. It takes shit from no one. And it lends a sense of familiarity when I meet clients. They feel like they know me already. Sort of like if my name was Martha Washington or Ted Bundy.") is a grim reaper. Or rather, she is the grim reaper. She sees the dead, the dead see her (apparently, she is very bright) and she helps them to cross to the other side by passing through her:
"...my job was to lead people into the light. Aka, the portal. Aka, me. But it didn't always go smoothly. Kind of like leading a horse to water and whatnot."
Charley works as a private investigator and also helps the police (namely, her Uncle Bob and her dad before him) to solve crimes (it is much easier to do that if you can ask the deceased who killed them) and every night for the past month she has been having wet dreams featuring a dark stranger who materialized out of smoke and shadows.
At the start of the book, Charley is woken up from one of those dreams and is thrust directly into a murder mystery which will lead her to several near death experiences, some discoveries about the world and her purpose in it and Reyes Farrow, a man she has only met once before but who has left quite an impression.
Charley's character is what made this book for me. She posesses that rare gift of which I am eternally jealous and appreciative. And that is humour. Charley is a hoot. And while Darynda Jones does go too far at times (Charley telling Garrett Swopes, aka Mr. tall, dark and skeptic, the names of her breasts was funny, until you realise that she is actually serious and she has named her own breasts and refers to them by their names during sex) but overall, I loved Charley and her witticisms. And I am totally looking forward to reading the other two books in the series.(less)
I needed something starting with A to read for the A to Z book challenge and this has been sitting on my shelf since I went through a frenzy of buying...moreI needed something starting with A to read for the A to Z book challenge and this has been sitting on my shelf since I went through a frenzy of buying booker shortlisted novels several years ago, back when I was still keen to impress myself and fellow commuters with my reading choices.
The books starts with a funeral of Molly Lane, a member of that happy breed of fabulous women who has a horde of ex and current lovers with all of whom she remains friends. We never learn much else about her but she is not important, since she is merely a plot device and the people who matter are the three ex-lovers who attend her funeral. Every single one of them is a self-absorbed, self-aggrandising selfish snob and they set on their course towards a resolution which is both hilarious and tragic.
I was surprised, because I enjoyed this quite a lot more than I thought I would. I settled on three stars but it's somewhere in between three and four. I didn't expect it to be funny yet it was. Not in an obvious laugh out loud kind of way but the more I think about it the funnier it is. It's a great example of an enjoyable read about despicable people and it's under 200 pages long. (less)
Ten strangers arrive on a private island just off the coast of Devon invited by a mysterious host, a dark secret is revealed about each of the guests...moreTen strangers arrive on a private island just off the coast of Devon invited by a mysterious host, a dark secret is revealed about each of the guests at the first dinner and one by one each is killed off following a children's rhyme about ten little indian boys which starts with "Ten little Indian boys went out to dine; One choked his little self and then there were nine..." and ends with "...and then there were none" of the title.
This was a little too murder by numbers for my taste. I couldn't believe in the story because life is never so neat. I did enjoy trying to guess who the murderer was but at no point could I imagine this as a real situation and, as a result, I could never fully invest myself in the story. It felt more like a puzzle than a book. (less)
- there are vicious killer rabbits out there, so watch out;
- you can make a bomb out of pretty much anything, even a f...moreThings I learned from this book:
- there are vicious killer rabbits out there, so watch out;
- you can make a bomb out of pretty much anything, even a five year old can do it;
- if you let a psychotic hippy with a penchant for psychological experiments bring up kids on an isolated island, the kids will invariably turn out to be looneys (well, duh).
This was good overall. I enjoy Banks' writing style and the characterisation was superb. The demented world of a teenage psychopath is delightfully realistic and logical and the book is full of black humour, the telephone conversations with the brother who is on the run from a mental institution were particularly hilarious.
"Porteneil 531." Pips sounded.
"Fuck it, Frank, I've got luna maria callouses on me feet. How the hell are ye, me young bucko?"
I looked at the handset, then up at my father, who was leaning over the rail from the floor above, tucking his pyjama top into his trousers. I spoke into the phone: "Hello there, Jamie, what are you doing calling me this late?"
"Wha-? Oh, the old man's there, is he?" Eric said. "T-ell him he's a bag of effervescent pus, from me."
"Jamie sends his regards," I called up to my father..."
"And how are you keeping?" I said quickly. "I mean, you must be sleeping rough. Aren't you catching cold or something?"
"I'm not sleeping."
"You're not sleeping?"
"Of course not. You don't have to sleep. That's just something they tell you to keep control over you. Nobody has to sleep; you're taught to sleep when you're a kid. If you're really determined, you can get over it. I've got over the need to sleep. I never sleep now. That way it's a lot easier to keep watch and make sure they don't creep up on you, and you can keep going as well. Nothing like keeping going. You become like a ship."
"Yeah? What did you forget?"
"Forget? I didn't forget anything! I remember everything! Everything!" screamed a familiar voice at the other end of the line.
I froze, then gulped, said: "Er-"
"Why are you accusing me of forgetting things? What are you accusing me of forgetting? What? I haven't forgotten anything!" Eric gasped and spluttered.
"Eric, I'm sorry! I thought you were somebody else!"
"I'm me!" he yelled. "I'm not anybody else! I'm me! Me!"
"I thought you were Jamie!" I wailed, closing my eyes.
"That dwarf? You bastard!"
"I'm sorry, I-" Then I broke off and thought. "What do you mean, 'that dwarf', in that tone? He's my friend. It isn't his fault he's small," I told him.
"Oh, yeah?" came the reply. "How do you know?"
"What do you mean how do I know? It wasn't his fault he was born like that!" I said, getting quite angry.
"You only have his word for that."
"I only have his word for what?" I said.
"That he's a dwarf!" Eric spat.
"What?" I shouted, scarcely able to believe my ears. "I can see he's a dwarf, you idiot!"
"That's what he wants you to think! Maybe he's really an alien! Maybe the rest of them are even smaller than he is! How do you know he isn't really a giant alien from a very small race of aliens? Eh?"
"Don't be stupid!" I screamed into the phone, gripping it sorely with my burned hand.
"Well, don't say I didn't warn you!" Eric shouted.
"Don't worry!" I shouted back.
"Anyway," Eric said in a suddenly calm voice, so that for a second or two I thought somebody else had come on the line, and I was left somewhat nonplussed as he went on in level, ordinary speech: "How are you?"
The ending was really disappointing though, and not the big reveal either, but the protagonists' musings afterwards. I was kind of enjoying the fact that Frank is a sociopath, misogynist and generally bat-shit crazy, so to have all of that rationalised, wiped clean and brushed under the carpet at the end (a) was a complete betrayal of the rest of the book and (b) just didn't make any logical, metaphysical or any other kind of sense. Oh yeah, I killed all those kids because I believed the ability to procreate had been taken away from me by cruel fate and they represented that very promise which I was forever denied. What? Frank was 5 at the time of the first kill, supposedly. I'm sorry but a 5 year old feeling seriously bereaved by the fact that he cannot have sex or kids to the point of homicide is ridiculous.
P.S. When I was very young (maybe 4 or 5 but the memory is very vague so I cannot be sure) and visiting my grandparents for the summer, one of my cousins (there were three of us in attendance) suggested we play concentration camp with catepillars. None of us thought this was in any way objectionable and we got as far as collecting a load of them in a jar, which we then put in the fridge for safekeeping. The story ended rather badly for us as we didn't bother putting a lid on the jar and the caterpillars went literally everywhere. Let's just say our grandmother was not best pleased. I'm not sure what my point is here, really. Both my cousins and I grew up to be reasonably well-adjusted adults despite our early sadistic tendencies so, maybe, it is that there is a little bit of a psycho in all of us and, given the right set of circumstances, it is totallly possible that I could now be checking sacrifice poles, fighting killer rabbits and collecting belly button fluff for ritual use. (less)