As Raphael Ignatius Phoenix approaches his 100th birthday, he plots his own demise. But before that day comes, he’s makes the decision to write a testimony of his life as a legacy to leave behind. Armed with felt tip pens and the white walls of his cliff top castle as a canvas, he tells his own autobiography in reverse. The defining details of his life? He’s a multiple murderer. In an attempt to tell his story, Phoenix decides to commit the full stories of each of his ten murders to paper.
Phoenix himself is an engaging and entertaining. He has a sharp tongue, an impressionable personality and a willingness to go where the wind takes him, discarding his past for a new life without so much as a second thought. Each period in his life is entirely unique, yet characterised by the same distinctive flair and personality.
But Phoenix is also deeply flawed as a character. He has a dark side that frequently comes to the forefront and a complete lack of regard for the feelings and wellbeing of anyone around him – with the exception of his childhood friend, Emily, who regularly turns up at opportune moments to save the day. His murderous tendencies are often provoked by the smallest of details, and he shows little or no remorse for his actions.
As we go further through the book, however, it becomes quite clear that Phoenix is entirely unreliable narrator. By the end, the lines between fact and fiction and reality and illusion have become distinctly blurred. It’s no longer possible to tell how much of what appears in Phoenix’s testimony happens only in his head.
As a result, Phoenix’s eulogy to himself turns from a quite a light-hearted, amusing anecdote into a tale with a troubling and disconcerting undercurrent. His friendship and fascination with Emily begins to seem more like an obsession. As he nears the end of his story, the physical barriers that constrain him at the beginning start to lose their hold. The world that he’s built around him becomes increasingly fragile and starts to crack and bend, revealing someone who is vulnerable and scared.
It’s hard to really put this book in a category. It’s funny, and even slightly ludicrous at times, and it kept me absorbed right to the end. Fans of Jonas Jonasson’s ‘The One Hundred Year Old Man’ will love it. But it also has a more serious edge to it that really had me gripped.
The only thing that bothered me is that events don’t get fully explained. Instead, we’re left to draw our own conclusions as to what’s actually been going on. Some people will love this – but I found it a bit frustrating!