The book read was second-hand, and somebody covered the first two pages with comprehensive notes explaining everything there is to explain about the book (spoilers galore), but it didn't ruin my reading displeasure.
Two years after I killed Blyth I murdered my young brother Paul, for quite different reasons than I'd disposed of Blyth, and then a year after that I did for my young cousin Esmerelda more or less on a whim.
That's my score to date.
I haven't killed anybody for years, and don't intend to ever again.
It was just a stage I was going through.
Enter - if you can bear it - the extraordinary private world of Frank, just sixteen, and unconventional, to say the least.
The inaugural entry on my “Horrible Humans” bookshelf. To be fair, I knew going into this book what the subject matter was—and I chose to read it anyway. What I didn’t realize that was two such books would come in at the public library for me mere days apart! So the second entry is waiting for me at home, when I’ve finished a couple of books with nearer due dates.
What an interesting first (published) novel for Mr. Banks! It is extremely well written—there were parts which made me cringe as I read them, I even set the book down and walked away for a while. But any devoted reader of true crime books will tell you that Frank is pretty mild in his awfulness compared to other, older (and real) offenders. One of the reasons that I gave up cable TV (and eventually TV in general) was an unhealthy obsession with true crime series which were seriously messing up my ability to trust the people around me. I may still be a little less trusting than the average person, but living in a city of over a million people, that seems to me to be a reasonable state of affairs.
And should I admit that I recognize many of Frank’s behaviours? What country child hasn’t spent hours outdoors, picking around old rubbish heaps if they are available, splooshing through water (I filled many pairs of wellies full of cold water during the run-off each spring), and developing my own little rituals to celebrate the seasons. Unlike Frank, I spent many happy hours just watching wild animals in our farm pasture land—convincing ground squirrels that I wasn’t going to do anything untoward and that they could go about their usual activities while I watched. Frank, however, has taken these childish past-times and given them a dark, heinous twist. He has taken the natural world and his violent thoughts and made his own private “religion” out of them, horrifying in its complexity and personal logic.
I can see where Banks considered this to be a work of almost-science fiction, getting into the head of someone who is confused and violent. Not recommended for those who are squeamish about scenes of animal cruelty.
Having re-listened to Neil Gaiman's Stardust on audiobook, and the author's postscript, in which he extolled the pleasure of listening to Huckleberry Finn on audiobook, I took a punt on that as my next audiobook.
It's supposed to be a classic, but it didn't work for me. Huck Finn is a child of his time, complete with prejudices. So a first person narrative puts you right inside his head. For me, that was at best uninteresting, occasionally veering into repellent.
For books in that vein, Richmal Crompton's 'William' books work far better - the third person narrative voice shows both the good and the bad of each character less filtered. But nothing has yet displaced Ray Bradbury's 'Dandelion Wine' from the top of that somewhat ill-defined pile.
So it shouldn't come as too much of a surprise that immediately following that, I also abandoned Iain Banks' The Wasp Factory. A first person narrative of a repellent individual. I didn't want to spend my morning commute in that head either, so it, too, has been returned to Audible for a refund. The same fate, and for exactly the same reasons, as Nathan Filer's The Shock of the Fall, a year or so back.
So, er, this book happened.
I'm having a lot of trouble responding to it, honestly. I almost don't want to three star it, because I'm just not sure "liked" is the appropriate word for it. It was well-done, for what it was. What it was was dark as hell, though. Seriously, horrifically dark as hell.
I read it almost completely in one go, straight through, like watching a car accident happening in front of you from start to finish, unable to tear your eyes away and feeling horrified both by what you are seeing and by your inability to stop yourself from watching it.
There was a moment where I was so completely horrified that I had to put it down and play Settlers of Catan for awhile because I just....couldn't handle it. I needed to not have certain images in my head. I'm actually still not comfortable thinking about that part of the book. I think it might end up being one of those things that haunts me forever and pops up randomly when I'm feeling miserable.
I completely understand why this book was controversial. There are actual several reasons for it, though I have a bad feeling that one of the biggest is actually the least horrifying thing about this book:
the fact that the main character is revealed to be transgender at the end.
Given everything else that happens, that should not be even a blip on the radar, but I can almost bet if I poked around a bit I would discover that it caused quite a ruckus.
I think I'm glad I read this book, if only because it is one of those books that is on all of those lists, one of those books that it feels like everyone has read but you. I'm not sure I know anyone I would actually recommend this to, however: I rather like my friends and family and try not to put them in situations in which throwing up while reading is an appropriate response.
This is a horribly rambling review, for which I am apologetic, but honestly putting my thoughts together at all is a hardship after reading this. The man can write, I will absolutely give him that, but I'm rather left wanting to scrub out my head and perhaps read something light and fluffy. Pet Sematary, perhaps. I can't think of anything that would not feel light and fluffy after this. Take that as condemnation or recommendation as you will.