David Botham’s relatively normal life is turned upside down the moment he attends a writing group. A book title he comes up with in the spur of the moment seems to be already in use in the form of an online blog – one that depicts cruel murders throughout the city. Mind reeling, David recognises the victims – people he’s come into contact with – and so is appalled to discover their actual fate. Nothing adds up though, because he’s not the one writing the posts, or is he?
(WARNING: This review contains minor spoilers.)
I received this book in exchange for an honest review. I thank Flame Tree Press for giving me the opportunity.
My second Campbell novel of this year, and it was a shame that I had to force myself to keep on reading it at several points. Whilst the premise certainly intrigued me – the growing paranoia, the suspicion of one’s own psyche – the character interactions continuously jarred my experience. Most of the time I didn’t have a clue what the conversations were even about; their meanings were intentionally convoluted and incomprehensible. I found myself re-reading passages multiple times, thus my constant attempt at deciphering speech quickly became a chore, and one I didn’t particularly appreciate. I much prefer a more realistic approach – I want personalities that feel real inside my head. I couldn’t properly imagine anyone talking like they did here, and so they resembled puppets more than genuine human beings. This goes for the protagonist as well; he remained this cardboard cut-out that acted out emotion the way he was meant to. I just didn’t care about him, despite him being the only tolerable character.
The plot focused a great deal on anger and hate, specifically directed at fellow man. It shed light on some very legitimate topics, such as social propriety and finding anonymity on the internet. These aspects appealed to me, but they were no doubt exaggerated. Characters were heavily discriminated against; their appearance, attitude and behavioural quirks magnified tenfold. In the chapters following the narrative of the mysterious entity, women were considered to be nothing but their genitalia, overweight individuals were constantly degraded, the disabled made fun of, as well as a torrent of other vicious abuse. The sheer nastiness didn’t offend me, but I can understand not everyone would welcome such obscenities. If anything, this book isn’t supposed to be rational, but rather it represents humanity in the worst possible way.
Here’s the thing, not a lot actually happened. When I look back, I don’t have any fond memories of certain scenes; I can’t pinpoint the highs and lows. It’s one big blur that led to an anticlimactic ending. It followed a very predictable pattern – waiting for the next blog post, for the main character to read it, rinse and repeat. There weren’t any surprises. It could have served as a shorter piece, the extra padding removed. It was a disappointment to say the least, because I’m aware of Campbell’s potential to create scenes that induce a delicious sense of dread.
In conclusion: My lack of attachment to the story damaged my passion to read. It took my about ten days to finish. The awkward dialogue, the predictability of the plot, they outweighed the little sliver of enjoyment.
You can’t suppress words,” I point out. “It doesn’t make the thoughts go away. More like it puts them beyond your control.”
© Red Lace 2018