Mayday!

Nah, I’m not in any real danger. Here I am again. (Fun fact of the day: “mayday” basically is what Anglophones picked up from the French military’s “m’aidez”. Sounds the same, but it just so happens that we have a similar word in our own language. And happy May Day/Beltane to you for Monday, if you celebrate it!)

Shit, I’ve got like two months before graduation. And a whole four months before I visit Japan. Oh man, I’m so excited for this summer. But also melancholic. Uni’s been amazing, but academia and I aren’t particularly good friends. One thing I’ve discovered in the field of English Lit and literary theorising is that… well, you don’t seem to be taken very seriously if you aren’t a classicist, a Shakespearean, etc. I’ve always preferred my classes on more modern literature, and… yeah. Not so sure about doing a Master’s in English Lit.

Seriously, would I even get approved to write a thesis on narrative theory in video games and how it correlates with books that centre themselves around video games, like Ender’s Game and Ready Player One? Or even movies like Wreck-It Ralph and Pixels?

So! Basically, dissertation is almost done and going to be submitted next week. Then it’s just chipping away at several assignments before June is out, as well as studying for an exam right at the end of May. I can do it! It’s going to be a tough month for me, but I can do it.

I know I can. Because I won’t let my anxiety/depression beat me.

So… I’ll post pics of graduation. Promise. :D

The March/April Report

This is the March/April Report!
Gives you the long and the short!

Note: this song is actually one of the ones I like the least from the entire soundtrack album of The Lion King. And it’s the one I now have stuck in my head. Thanks, brain.

So, hello there! I’ve almost been gone for a month now, and I figured I ought to touch base and not just disappear for three whole months like I almost did last year.

A few days after I finished my review of Seeker, I went on a university trip to Krákow and Berlin. An amazing time was had by all, and I’m really going to miss some of my uni friends when we graduate. On the trip, I read Small Gods (RIP Pterry :( ), The Burning Man by Christopher Fowler, and Miklós Nyszli’s account of working as Dr. Mengele’s assistant in Auschwitz. On our trip, we went to the Auschwitz Memorial Museum, Kazimierz, Kraków Old Town and the Schindler Museum while we were in Poland, and in Berlin we saw the Reichstag, chunks of the Berlin Wall, the Stasi Museum, and the Holocaust Memorial. I’ll write up a more detailed account of the trip soon, but it was pretty amazing. If you’re a BSU English student just going into your third year, and just so happen to be mulling over whether to do the Literature & Evil module or not… Go ahead. I’m glad I did.

I came home for the Easter holidays once I’d packed a new suitcase of stuff from my uni lodgings, and I’m still here. I… honestly don’t see much point in going back, considering there are almost no lectures on, and I tend to work better when I have a routine at home. I’ll return in May for one last week or two, considering I have one exam, and then in June, I think I have the month off? I’m not sure. I have a trip to Japan on the cards (though not all sorted yet), but my graduation is in July and I’ll need to confirm a few things here and there. But yay, I’ll have a Bachelor’s degree in my hands and NO SCHOOL DEADLINES ANY MORE!

Unless I decide to do a Master’s or something. Which I’m still unsure of, because it’s just so freaking expensive. I was discussing with my friend Katya about going to Edinburgh on one Master’s programme, but good god can I not afford to relocate to Scotland after this summer, and it probably wouldn’t be good for my mental health either. D: Such a shame, but hey. I’m looking at doing TOEFL and maybe an Open University course in Education or literacy in the meantime.

Today (and most of April, to be honest) has been rather uneventful. I’m recovering right now from a chest infection that has left me hoarse and rather irritable (seriously, I do NOT need my lungs to feel like they’re in a vice every time I try to take a breath), and just working away at my assignments until I’m due to go back to uni in May. I’ve got plenty of time to get them done, so… yeah! Looking forward to being able to tell myself I achieved all this. With love and support from my family and wonderful friends, of course.

Depression/anxiety, you can go take a long walk off a short pier. How dare you try to make me throw in the towel and drop out of uni in my second year, when I still had so much to achieve and so many awesome times to have with my friends. (Seriously, you guys have been amazing.) How dare you nearly put me in hospital from stress-related illnesses. How dare you cause panic attacks so severe I still have a fear of getting agitated, because I know within five minutes I’ll be a sobbing wreck? No, seriously, this mental illness can just screw itself and the horse it rode in on, because I am going to graduate and I am going to get more positivity in my life.

…And this is where I announce my retirement from seeking out bad YA, too.

Yeah. I can’t stomach a lot of YA these days, and I’ve really grown to hate forcing myself through such awful garbage writing that reflects a mindset I’ve long grown out of. YA can be an absolutely excellent genre, but when you’re reading the umpteenth instance of somebody displaying those awful, bratty flaws and attitude problems from your teenage years, you eventually just stop caring and it severely affects your enjoyment of the story. So no, I haven’t read whatever new Tiger’s Curse book there is, and I have absolutely no desire to return to that putrid series written by an author who could write what she knows about India on the world’s smallest postage stamp. And I’m not going to ‘dissect’ any more of the Halo books. They weren’t dissections, really, so much as me venting my spleen on a book everybody had already gassed on about years ago.

So, what will I be reading? Books I do have time for! Books that interest me, books that made me think. Along with graphic novels and more manga than you can shake a stick at, because I have been severely out of the loop with that lately. (Question – who else dropped Durarara!!x2 after six episodes? Christ alive, what happened to that show?)

But yeah, that’s where I’ve been and where I currently am. Look forward to more content on the blog as I shakily enter into adulthood and look to have a wonderful summer. <3

(Also, happy 4/13 to all my fellow Homestucks out there! And a very happy birthday to dear old John Egbert.)

Book Review: Seeker (Seeker #1) by Arwen Elys Dayton

Quin Kincaid has been put through years of brutal training for what she thinks is the noble purpose of becoming a revered ‘Seeker’.

Only when it’s too late does she discover she will be using her new-found knowledge and training to become an assassin.

Quin’s new role will take her around the globe, from a remote estate in Scotland to a bustling, futuristic Hong Kong where the past she thought she had escaped will finally catch up with her.

Amazon | GoodReads | The Book Depository

(Also posted to Bibliodaze!)

I like to follow trends in YA publishing, and it’s been a hobby of mine ever since I started reviewing back in 2011. Of course, I’d been reading YA fiction since before then, and over the years there are three trends in particular that have stuck out to me.

  1. The Twilight clone
  2. The John Green-esque contemporary
  3. The dystopia.

I don’t blame the authors or the publishers of these books for capitalising on the success of The Hunger Games, The Fault in Our Stars, or Stephenie Meyer’s successful series. Any business will take a look at what’s been popular in the recent past and seek to ride that wave of popularity.

However, right now, the emerging trend in YA seems to be for high fantasy. Kingdoms, political intrigue, assassins, references to ‘the old gods’, etc. Publishers have likely seen the huge interest in popular culture for Game of Thrones, Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings/Hobbit trilogy, and also, arguably, Outlander.

Which segues us neatly into high-concept Scottish futuristic fantasy YA. Also known as Seeker. Now, before we begin, Seeker has a very interesting publishing history. The author, Arwen Elys Dayton, is represented at Penguin Random House by Jodie Reamer, who has been featured on Bibliodaze as one of the most influential people in publishing in 2014, and the same website has featured Seeker as a novel to look out for in 2015. Her publishing successes include The Fault in Our Stars, the Twilight series, and Ransom Riggs’ Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children. A huge advance was supposedly paid for Seeker. Dayton is currently writing the sequels, and the film rights have even been purchased. So it’s clear to see that there are high hopes for this novel and the other books in the series. Maybe it’ll kick-start a whole new wave of fantasy in YA. Hooray!

Sadly, there are no hoorays from here on out.

I really was surprised at just how bad Seeker was, considering its high concept.

Seeker is a novel about guardians/assassins, travelling from Scotland to a futuristic Hong Kong on a journey of supposedly ‘epic’ proportions. Okay. That’s all well and good, but… It almost feels like false advertising here. In fact, Seeker stuffs in absolutely everything but the kitchen sink, and it just doesn’t work. Not only do we have time travel to contend with, we also have:

  • Steampunk zeppelins floating over London, owned by an extremely rich businessman. (I’m not a Londoner but I’m pretty sure that would probably raise some hackles/eyebrows. Even if it is the future. This is why research is important.)
  • Mysterious immortals known as ‘Dreads’.
  • Ancient rites fulfilled by a chosen few, wars between families over the possession of a powerful artefact.
  • Amnesia.
  • Super technological yet ancient “whip-swords” that can be programmed to not harm an enemy during a practice bout.
  • “Lightning rods.”
  • “Disruptors.”
  • Hovering cars.
  • Animal insignia for each of the families that turns out to have rather little significance to the plot proper.

And you know what? All of these are fine ideas. But they aren’t inserted naturally into the book, in a way that would flesh out this fantastical world and make the reader interested to continue. These are all just crammed all in together, resulting in a flabby, almost nonsensical fantasy narrative. It seems unique, yes, but the frame that all of the above hangs off of is just generic and flimsy and has been done over and over again.

It’s the same generic Hero’s Journey formula with three main characters (two boys, one girl), sprinklings of what some might call imaginative (at a stretch), and the writing is absolutely godawful for what’s supposed to be the finished product. I requested this Advance Reader’s Copy about a month before the book’s publishing date, and the sentence structure in some places is laughably juvenile and poorly-constructed. It points out the obvious, kindly reminding us at one point that the seven hour time difference between the UK and Hong Kong means that four o’clock in the afternoon in the GMT timezone is eleven o’clock at night for Hong Kong.

Worse than that, however, is how poor the plotting is. Something I’ve noticed as I’ve followed other sufferers of this book on GoodReads, is how often people talk about having to reread certain sections. Or, they have to put the book to one side and try to figure out just what the heck is going on in the plot. The same thing happened to me. Eventually, caring any bit about the plot just becomes exasperating, and you find yourself skim-reading more and more as time goes on. It’s not a terribly exciting book. Exciting things may happen, but the book’s too poorly written to grab your attention.

Let’s go back to the writing. I have samples from different parts of the book, and they are absolutely dire examples of syntax, with poor rhythm and bland description.

That stone had been there before the ruined castle was built. It was from a time when the land had belonged to the Druids. Her father said their most distant ancestors had been Druids. Her family had been here that long.’

Let me take two seconds to rewrite that so it isn’t pointing out the obvious, like the book’s target demographic took a wrong turn somewhere and smacked into ‘toddlers’ rather than ‘teens/young adults.’

The standing stone had weathered the test of time, from before the ruined castle had even been built. Legends spoke of the land belonging to the Druids in ancient times. Quin’s father claimed that their family tree’s roots were deep enough to have had some of the practitioners of the old ways amongst their distant kin.

There. Not great, but hopefully flows much better than the finished product which sold for a huge advance and has film rights attached.

It was a young man. He was about her own age, quite nice-looking, with fair skin and light brown hair. He stood with his back to the entry door, and his blue eyes were looking at her like he was drowning and she might save his life.’

It’s really shocking at times how bad the writing is. Sometimes you could rewrite whole paragraphs.

The book also has this weird problem with depicting certain races and cultures as stereotypically as humanly possible. Half-Japanese Shinobu’s mother used to “teach him about honour.” Similarly, he “moves like a tiger” and “looks like an Asian film star.” Don’t even get me started on Hong Kong, we’ll be here for days. It’s like the Hong Kong of all the horrible old colonial stereotypes: opium dens, brothels, acupuncturists and herbalists on every corner, and “exotic”-looking citizens with “slanted eyes” who, like all Asians, are particularly obsessed with honour.

‘He remembered her very lovely Japanese face and her small stature – she’d looked like a doll next to his father.’

‘He always became more Japanese around Mariko. There had been lectures, when he was a child, about things like manners and honour. Those lectures had meant a great deal to him, back when he’d believed his life would be full of honour.’

Sigh.

Scotland is rather hilariously depicted. Like, this is a novel where you have a redheaded man named Alistair MacBain, who wields a claymore. His sister (despite this being set in the near-future) is shown swinging around a mug of cider, making a stew and living in a cottage on a very old-style Highland estate.

In fact, Scotland functions more as window dressing, really, since we don’t really return to it after the first act. Scotland is just the starting location of the book, where our three main characters (Quin, Shinobu and John) have been training their whole lives to become Seekers.

What are Seekers, I hear you ask? They’re… uh… guardians or something? They train rigorously from an early age to be entrusted with an ancestral weapon of great power (the aforementioned rip-in-space-and-time dagger), and they have to have their souls judged by some mysterious immortal beings called the Dreads before they finally get approval to use this knife to travel wherever they please. So, with great power comes great responsibility, right?

Wrong. As it turns out, they’re going to be assassins of some sort, rather than noble guardians. From what I can tell, John gets irritated that he’s been lied to by the Dread and will never be entrusted with what he considers is his birthright, so… he takes revenge, and Shinobu and Quin are scattered to Hong Kong (at distant points in time, I think? This book is confusing), with Quin suffering particularly badly from the effects of this action: she becomes an amnesiac.

No, not just amnesiac — she also seems to lose her emotions entirely as well. She takes up a nursing job in Hong Kong and becomes an incredibly passive character. She’s completely dull, only beaten out for the gold medal podium by the sheer grace that Maud (one of the Dreads) being even more dull. So basically, Maud earns the gold, Quin the silver, and John and Shinobu are joint bronze.

Where exactly are the fantastical elements I was promised? Just because you have a few Scottish set-pieces where characters meet at standing stones and wield an ancestral, magical weapon, that does not make this a fantasy novel. Like I said earlier, this is a novel that has too much stuffed into its poor carcass. It wants to have elements of futuristic technology and yet remain magical and mysterious. It wants to have family conspiracies, but leaves them on the back-burner for so long that you just don’t care when some character tracks down another.

The writing is just sloppily executed for a book that has been so heavily hyped. I can’t blame the clunky style and stop-start stop-start flow of action on the rough edges of an uncorrected proof, either. My digital copy says it’s a ‘first edition.’

So, I didn’t like the writing, I didn’t like the characters, and the story was horrendously vague, over-stuffed and overly complicated. Was there anything I did like?

Well, yes. I liked the concept at its core. A dagger that splits open the space-time continuum and has our characters chasing each other around separate countries and timelines and might even focus on differing theories of time travel and alternate dimensions…

But no, sadly it was not to be.

1/5.

Film Review: Chappie (2015, dir. Neill Blomkamp)

Right, let’s get one thing out of the way. This is the best film I’ve seen in 2015.

So far, I’ve been on four cinema outings this year. Into The Woods was… ech, The Theory of Everything was good (but not really Oscar-worthy), and I did not get on at all with Jupiter Ascending. I was waiting for a really good film to come along and blow me out of the water, and hooray, it came along quicker than I expected! (I still have high hopes for Avengers: Age of Ultron. So sue me.)

I’m going to try and avoid spoilers for this movie, and keep it all succinct. I went in only knowing a) it was directed by Neill Blomkamp of District 9 fame, b) it was about a robot. What I did not know was that a) it was going to make me so emotional and b) Die Antwoord were the major stars of this movie. They’re certainly around more than stars you’d expect to see top billed, like Sigourney Weaver and Hugh Jackman.

I had no idea that they could act. (Admittedly, I only know them from the memetic, bizarre music video that is Enter The Ninja, but we’re getting off topic. (Also good God, I have had Cookie Thumper on repeat ever since I got back from this film. Send help.)) Both Yolandi and Ninja come a little bit unstuck during the more emotional, shouty scenes, but I believed every moment of them forming a family and beginning to care for Chappie.

The writing for this movie isn’t admittedly the best. I’ve seen some reviews that have said the screenplay would probably have stood one or two more rewrites before making it into the big leagues, but honestly, it works really well as a movie that you don’t even notice many of the plot inconsistencies.

Hugh Jackman didn’t really seem to fit in this movie. He just came across as a really cheap antagonist at times. I’m glad they improved on Dev Patel’s character, though — because to begin with, he’s a mincing, Urkel-lite caricature of a nerd. I’m quite certain that stereotype was left behind way back in 1992, but apparently a nerd in 2016 would screech “YOU PHILISTINES!” during an argument.

Aside from that, seriously, this film is a lot of fun. I know it’s got a lot of flaws, but hell, it’s the most I’ve enjoyed myself at the cinema so far this year.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some Hans Zimmer and Die Antwoord to listen to.

4.5 stars.

#DearMe – A Message to My Younger Self

So, this is mostly an initiative in aid of International Women’s Day that a lot of YouTubers are taking part in. Basically, making a video in which they “talk” to their younger self, and remind them of how everything gets so much better in the future, though you are inevitably going to take some knocks along the way.

I thought I’d join in, even though my blog following isn’t particularly large, in solidarity of this project and in solidarity of my fellow ladies.

So, I’m twenty three years old now, and I’m a completely different person to who I was in high school. At least, I hope I am. I’m much, much less awkward.

Dear Me, please realise that grades are not everything. You bullied yourself for years trying to impress your parents, all whilst being bullied by kids in your year group and having to hide in the damn library or toilets every break time. But… your parents had to remind you almost every year when you got burned out, that they don’t care if you get Cs and Ds. (Oh, and try not to burst into tears when a science teacher known for his harsh approach gives you an E on a piece of homework.)

It’s rammed into your head constantly that you must do well at secondary school and if not, you fail life completely. No, it’s A-levels and university they ought to be prioritising. GCSEs are a walk in the park. I’m serious. I know you’d print off GCSE past papers and do them every other weekend, and you once turned in a mock test on Jane Austen because you wanted to show your teacher that you wanted to study more than just To Kill A Mockingbird, but really, there’s no need for it. He’ll just tell you to actually do the Harper Lee question in the exam paper.

As for the bullies? Well… What are they doing with their lives? Not much. It took you a little while to get to university after a miserable period of anxiety and refusing to take your studies seriously, but you’re here now, writing a dissertation on your favourite author, and they’re presumably still stuck in your little dead-end town.

Vanessa, in ten years time, you’ll spend your spare time brushing up on four languages. You were bored one day so you taught yourself how to read Korean and the Cyrillic alphabet. Your Japanese teacher will meet with your deputy headmaster one day and tell him that you were one of his most impressive students. Remember how you brought in a Nintendo comic you were using to teach yourself hiragana and katakana? Well… Guess what? Now, you’ve got plans to either do a Master’s Degree in Japanese Studies, or you’re going to take the JLPT. And the TEFL. Even if you can’t afford the Master’s, you’re going to get qualified one way or another.

Anyway, back onto a more relevant subject. Your body. You’ve always been overweight, and with a stocky build. It doesn’t help that you go through a ridiculous growth spurt, leaving you a 6′ titan in a class of 14-15 year olds. But, that doesn’t mean you’re going to be that size forever. I’ve dropped a good 10lb since January this year, just through walking more and trying not to eat processed rubbish. (Speaking of which, try some cream crackers with cucumber and red pepper flavoured hummus. It is a much better choice of snack. Tastier, too!) But anyway, remember, many girls would kill for your height. Ignore the idiots who pick on you for it.

Your current friends are lovely, but you will drift apart after secondary school. It’s inevitable, and I’m sorry. I know you take it particularly hard, but thankfully, you have a safety net in the form of another stable of great friends you’ll meet in sixth form, some of whom will remain friends for life.

Also, let’s talk about your hobbies for a second. Yes, 13 year old me, it sucks that nobody else in this countryside town likes Invader Zim and Batman as much as you do. For god’s sake, stay away from the goth phase. You don’t have the gumption to commit to any kind of subculture, and you know it. (I believe I still have a pair of rainbow jeans I bought on my 12th birthday because, you know, enjoying some happy hardcore tunes mean I was a legitimate “raver”. Christ alive.)

By the way, that little Gir figurine in the Invader Zim DVD box-set you imported from America is quite rare and bumps up the price of the box-set to around $200. SO DON’T LOSE IT – oh, okay, you did. (Speaking of Zim, rejoice — Oni Press are collaborating with Jhonen Vasquez himself to make it into a comic this summer! Yay!)

However, once you get out of secondary school, like Martina from Eat Your Kimchi says in her #DearMe video… you’re going to meet people who share your hobbies, for once! High school is this one tiny little universe you have to inhabit for five years of your youth, and once you’re out, you’re out. Your social skills have hopefully developed, and you can easily meet people with whom you have a lot in common. Not just online, where you can filter people out by forum/community/whatever, but I-R-L. Get on it!

To be honest, younger self, I’d recommend you dig through your childhood Dr. Seuss books and re-read Oh The Places You’ll Go, because that’s what keeps coming to mind as I’m writing this piece. I know depression and anxiety sucks, but there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel.

It gets better.

Book Review: The Disaster Artist by Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell

In 2003, an independent film called The Room -written, produced, directed, and starring a very rich social misfit of indeterminate age and origin named Tommy Wiseau – made its disastrous debut in Los Angeles. Described by one reviewer as “like getting stabbed in the head,” the $6 million film earned a grand total of $1,800 at the box office and closed after two weeks. Now in its tenth anniversary year, The Room is an international phenomenon. Thousands of fans wait in line for hours to attend screenings complete with costumes, audience rituals, merchandising, and thousands of plastic spoons.

Readers need not have seen The Room to appreciate its co-star Greg Sestero’s account of how Tommy Wiseau defied every law of artistry, business, and interpersonal relationships to achieve the dream only he could love.

Amazon | Goodreads | The Book Depository

So, a couple of weeks ago I went to see my first ever screening of The Room. And the moment I walked back into my apartment, I had a whole bunch of questions running around my mind. How was the movie financed, and why did it wind up looking cheaper than an American soap opera? Why was it narratively paced and staged like a short play in three acts? Did nobody tell Mr. Wiseau that stage plays function differently to movies? How did nobody try and rewrite the dialogue, to actually make it sound… well… like normal people speak?

The Room is such an interesting phenomenon that there’s two documentaries about it coming out soon. One is independently-financed and has been a collaborative effort between all the actors deciding to gather together and reminisce, and the second film is… well, going to be directed by James Franco. (Ick.)

It’s amazing to think that, had Tommy simply hired out a theatre school in Los Angeles and performed The Room there, in its original Tennessee Williams format, his play would have probably slipped into complete obscurity. Instead, he adapted it for the screen in the most hilariously incompetent way, but seemed to show a passion for film-making that pretty much made him the modern day equivalent to Ed Wood.

Tommy Wiseau does come across as a funny figure most of the time. He brushes off the concerns of the production team with this lackadaisical “no don’t worry about it and anyway, how is your sex life?” But it’s also important to note that this is the exact same man whose crew went on strike because he threw a water bottle at an actress who flubbed her line. His actors spent a lot of time battling heatstroke in the Californian sun because Tommy was too cheap to rent an extra generator for air conditioning, prompting another crewman to permanently walk off set after one too many unfulfilled promises.

Tommy was too cheap (cheep cheep cheep) to spring for the welfare of his actors and production staff, but he did somehow pony up the money to spend tens of thousands of dollars on merchandising, over $360,000 on a billboard to advertise the film in Hollywood over a five year period, and even rented cinema space for it for ages, despite only ever making a few hundred dollars out of ticket sales.

The Disaster Artist doesn’t particularly answer one’s questions on just how Tommy got the money… or just why he’s such a strange being in the first place. For the former, some signs point to an elderly woman named Chloe Lietzke, who presumably took Tommy in and financed most of the production. She’s credited quite a lot in the introduction to the film, despite never once actually visiting the set. For the latter, well… Tommy seems to not have very good memories of his early life in Europe and has an almost fanatical desire to be seen as an American. Even going so far as to make a Thanksgiving dinner every single day in November. Seriously.

(My personal theory? Tommy is an actual vampire, ex-communicated from the vampire community. Presumably he had his memory wiped and was left out on the road somewhere. It’s as valid a theory as any. :P )

This has to be one of the funniest books I’ve ever read, though. Tom Bissell has a real way with words, and seriously, I was laughing like a hyena as Greg recounted Tommy doing Stanley’s monologue from A Streetcar Named Desire.

In short, this is a fantastic book that I recommend for all fans of The Room. 5 stars.

Some more choice quotes:

“Tommy, don’t hurt my son.” I put my hand over my eyes. The worst thing Tommy could do in response to this request, I thought, would be to chuckle creepily. “I would not,” Tommy said, chuckling creepily.
(p. 83)

Dan had some questions about Chris-R. We all did. Why the name “Chris-R”, for instance? What’s with that hyphen? Tommy’s explanation: “He is gangster.” What about this drug business, which never comes up either before or after Chris-R’s only scene in the film? “We have big problem in society with drugs. Chris-R is gangster and Denny takes drugs. So he must be rescued.”
(p. 34)

‘Sandy was not the only person on set, besides me, who’d been given a complete script of The Room. He’d done considerable work on it, mostly turning it’s dreadful dialogue (“Promotion! Promotion! That’s all I hear about. Here is your coffee and English muffin and burn your mouth.”) into linguistic units human beings could exchange.’
(p. 28)

Book Review: I Hunt Killers (Jasper Dent #1) by Barry Lyga

You’re seventeen years old, and your father is the most notorious serial killer America has ever produced.

He brought you up. Taught you everything he knows. Everyone in your ordinary American town knows who you are.

So even though Dear Old Dad is safely behind bars, when the killing starts all over again, you are the first person the police come to see.

They don’t know whether it’s nature or nurture. And neither do you.

Amazon | GoodReads | The Book Depository

Most of this year, I’ve been taking a class on representations of evil in popular literature. We’ve gone from Voltaire’s Candide to philosophers such as Kant, Arendt, Liebniz, and Nietzsche, and we’ve just finished looking at books surrounding spree and serial killers.

So, in my spare when I wasn’t reading about Charles Manson, watching Bowling For Columbine (yes, it’s a suggested watch on our syllabus) or re-reading my dog-eared copy of The Psychopath Test, I switched this book on my Kindle for some leisure time.

And this book is absolutely fascinating. Hot damn.

If you like crime, thrillers, and the exploration of good and evil, this book is for you. The inner workings of Jasper’s mind feel absolutely realistic, especially considering that his father was, indeed, a fictitious yet monstrous serial killer. A Ted Bundy figure who moved from state to state, doing terrible things to the women he captured, and making his own son watch. I think it goes without saying that that kind of childhood would mess up your psyche. Really, really badly.

The book brings up the question of nature vs. nurture several times. Jasper’s grandmother knew she’d given birth to a ‘bad egg’, and she always swore that Jasper would grow up to be just like his father. Except… Jasper was taken away from his mother at a young age and forced into watching and doing terrible things. This may be a personal bias, since I’m generally in the ‘nurture’ camp on this debate. However, Jasper is extremely well realised and believable as a young man struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder and despairing over whether or not he really is a sociopath.

So, let’s get on to the plot proper rather than go on gushing about Jasper. Which, believe me, I could.

Following his father’s incarceration, Jasper has been living in the small town of Lobo’s Nod, trying to live as normally as possible. He’s got an awesome girlfriend named Connie, and a cheerful best friend named Howie, who suffers from haemophilia. They’re his anchors to the real world, and they’re always willing to comfort him when he’s having horrible flashbacks to his father’s abuse, or disagreeing with his mentally ill grandmother, or even trying to fend off this small town’s equivalent of the paparazzi.

But, unfortunately, there’s a murderer who’s just arrived in town. A murderer calling himself ‘The Impressionist’, obsessed with the ‘work’ of Billy Dent. He confounds the police, but the puzzle pieces all fit into place for Jasper. It’s just a shame that Billy Dent 2.0 is always two or three steps ahead of him, and it takes a little while to actually figure out that The Impressionist is copying America’s most prolific serial killer, rather than just being a random increase in the number of murders in this town.

Admittedly, the book starts out incredibly strong and then peters out going into the third act. It’s a shame, but not enough for me to consider knocking a full star off its rating. Going to actually visit Billy Dent in prison (not really spoilers, I guess) should have had a lot more gravity to it, but it just seems tacked on as window-dressing, and thus, the ending is rather rushed. (Also, I called the identity of the murderer quite early on, but… I suppose that’s just something I’ve picked up from reading and analysing crime fiction over the past few years.)

Speaking of Billy Dent, though, my God. He’s terrifying. He’s this hideous, ghostly presence in Jasper’s mind, and it chills you to the bone when poor Jazz is remembering parts of his childhood. No wonder his memory is ‘a tossed salad’. I think we’d all be trying our best to forget, especially if the highlight of your ninth birthday was being taken down to the basement and shown how to dissolve human body parts in quicklime.

Billy Dent’s fathering skills – such as they were – resembled brainwashing techniques more than parenting. As a result, Jazz mostly remembered bits and pieces, like now — a memory of blood running into a sink drain; the pungent smell of it thick in his nose; a sharp stained knife resting in the sink. Jazz had a terror of knives left in sinks. He couldn’t stand seeing them there. At home, every time he used a knife, he had to clean it and stow it in a drawer or knife block immediately; just the sight of a knife in a sink made him shiver and quake.

‘Nice job, son…. Nice, good cut. Clean…’
(Loc. 565)

On bad days, Jazz wondered if he had figuratively taken his father’s place, just as he’d literally taken Billy’s place behind the wheel of the Jeep. Was that his destiny? Billy Dent made no secret of his plans for Jazz: ‘You’ll be the greatest ever, Jasper. They’ll never catch you. You’ll be the new boogeyman parents use to scare their kids into behaving. You’ll make everyone forget Speck and Dahmer and even Jack the goddamn Ripper. My boy. My boy.’
(Loc. 1147)

Okay, so the writing is a teensy bit clunky and clumsy at times, but it’s nothing severe. I found myself hooked very easily, devouring this book in small chunks and then regretting having to set it aside to do uni work.

Honestly, it’s a pretty damn good book, setting aside my minor issues with the ending and some of the writing at times. The psychology of our main protagonist is perfectly realised, and it’s thoroughly gripping and thrilling.

Verdict: 4.5 stars.