The White Road – Sarah Lotz

The White RoadThe story:

Simon Newman maintains a website for thrill seekers, posting videos of extreme or ghoulish situations online. When a caving expedition goes horribly wrong, Simon’s video of his near death experience goes viral. Chasing something big to follow up on this success, Simon finds himself attempting to scale Everest. But the more time passes, the more Simon is haunted by past events. As his present collides with the past, Simon begins to lose his grip on reality in while attempting to stay grounded in some of the most dangerous and inhospitable places on earth.

My thoughts:

Throughout the book, Simon struggles to deal with what happened in the caves and the morality of using the internet to gain fame and success at the expense of others. He has to deal with feelings of grief and guilt, but his reluctance to do so means that his feelings manifest into a self-destructive, wild obsession. He’s not a particularly likable character, but to me this made him feel more real.

Although this is primarily a psychological thriller, there’s a supernatural element that runs through the book. Simon is convinced that there is a sinister figure lurking just out of view, intent on causing him harm. He is haunted by the ghosts of his past and the things that he has done, which take on a physical manifestation that drive him slowly mad. As readers, we’re presented with the facts from his perspective, and we’re left to make up our own minds as to whether these things are really happening or if they are only happening in Simon’s head. Whatever we choose to believe, there is a pervading air of menace and madness that runs through the entire book.

This, combined with the extreme settings that the Simon finds himself in over the course of the novel – from being trapped underground in tunnels that are slowly filling with water, surrounded by the dead and the cold, dark rocks and to scaling the world’s most deadly peak, oppressed by the cold, the altitude and the barren snow swept landscapes – make for an atmospheric and unsettling read. The situation is threatening and claustrophobic – both in reality and in Simon’s head.

In conclusion…

I’ve read other books by Lotz in the past and I’ve found them similarly hard to categorise. I wouldn’t necessarily describe this as horror, or as a straight up thriller, but it definitely has many of the elements of both. The White Road is a very different read from everything else I’ve read this year, and although it was creepy and sometimes unsettling, I was hooked and couldn’t put it down.

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‘The Final Testimony of Raphael Ignatius Phoenix’ by Paul Sussman

RIPAs 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. Continue reading

Review of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl

With over 2 million copies sold worldwide, Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl was one of the most talked about books of the last year- and rightly so.

Gone GirlA dark and disturbing thriller, Gone Girl is the story of the disappearance of a seemingly perfect wife on her fifth wedding anniversary. For Nick, left behind in smalltown Carthage, Missouri, Amy’s disappearance plunges him into a waking nightmare. As the police and the American public begin to turn against him, it’s clear that something about his take on recent events doesn’t quite add up.

The first part of the novel switches between Nick’s first hand experiences of the days immediately after the disappearance and Amy’s diary entry’s, dating back to the day that they first met. But as the book progresses, we begin to realise that the two narratives we’re hearing are telling very different stories, and that at least one of the two of them is not telling the whole truth. In fact, they’re telling anything but the truth.

Then – and there are spoilers coming up so if you don’t want to know, don’t read ahead – the second half of the book hits and we realise that we have two very unreliable and wholly unlikeable characters on our hands. Both Nick and Amy are lying, concealing and misleading both themselves and the reader. It’s a bold move from Gillian Flynn, as she runs the risk of alienating her audience. Not everyone wants to read a whole novel with central characters they can’t relate to.

But in this case, it’s a risk that really paid off. Nick and Amy are human and throughout the novel they display very human weaknesses. Whether they have any redeeming qualities is a very different matter.

Gillian Flynn really ramps up the tension and holds her readers in suspense the whole way through. I was hooked and couldn’t put it down until I turned last pages in the (very) early hours of the morning! Ultimately, in Gone Girl Gillian Flynn has created a master psychological thriller that thoroughly deserves the praise that has been heaped upon it.