Monday, 28 August 2017
I'm Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid
I did not like this book. Nope, nope, nope. There were a few moments of genuine creepiness, but the ending squanders them all, and there are so many problems that at the end I was less intimidated by its subtle brilliance as I was angry at the book, the author, and the publisher.
It's trying to be some kind of riff on Gone Girl - not the plot specifically, but the thriller with a TWIST at the END and lots of AMBIGUITY along the way, with a WOMAN in DANGER who ends up not being in danger after all. I don't know why I felt the need to put those words in all caps, except that it feels like this was a book that was written with those as keywords and not a hell the lot else.
So, what is this book about? It's about a girl going with her boyfriend to meet his parents, all the while thinking about ending the relationship. Right? I mean, RIGHT? Of course, the end of the book will reveal that none of this has really happened, so who the fuck cares? I certainly don't.
There are also mysterious phone calls she gets FROM HER OWN NUMBER leading up to the trip and during it. These will amount to absolutely nothing at all. Neither will the vaguely creepy parents, although there is a little more to them. But also nothing will be done with the stacked sheep carcasses by the side of the barn that left everyone who'd ever been on a farm howling with screams of "that would never happen!" Nothing will also be done with the janitor in the creepy high school and the moment where he drops to the ground and wriggles away.
At the end, it turns out this is all nothing, a fiction written by said janitor as he (possibly high on varnish fumes), kills himself. And this is where my largest problem comes in. It is a two-fold problem.
ONE. This is not the first book where it turns out a male character in a novel with a first-person female narrator has actually been writing the story for her the whole time. The fact that I can point it out as A Thing (although Ian McEwan did it better), is getting to be annoying.
TWO. For this to work, there would have to be a damned point to the story. A pressing reason why this is the story that must be told, something at the end that makes the reader think "of course. He couldn't have written any story but this one, because this was the one that burned in his belly and needed to come out." That is not the case. Even taken into account that the janitor is obviously deteriorating mentally, and has been for years, this is not the case. There's a difference between urgency, and trying to write like you're losing your mind without a sense of direction, or anything for the reader to latch on to.
Sure, he writes about a girl he said hi to in a bar twenty years earlier, but that is not enough to make this an urgent story! What was it about that girl (he doesn't even give her a name, or much of a personality) that makes her, in his mind, his last chance at connection, destroyed when even his fictional character rejects him? Why her, why this story, why now, why do things play out the way they do? The "rejection" also never actually happens and is pretty mild leading up to never happening.
This is more like the author throwing stuff randomly at the wall with the excuse of "crazy main character!" for why none of it ever pans out. And that's cheap, and it's cheating. Even within psychosis, there is something that matters to the person, even if it doesn't reflect reality. This is not something.
And don't get me started on all the small errors in the book that drove me absolutely fucking batty. I don't buy the excuse that these mistakes are a reflection of the guy losing it. If he was the brother he tells a story about, he did have grad-level science education, and there's no particular reason he'd lose track of a detail like telling the girl impressively that he once saw Venus without a telescope. (So has everyone, dumbass, as long as they've looked up at the night sky.) Or that you don't do a postdoc and thesis at the same time. I don't find these convincing evidence of losing one's mind. I do find them irritating mistakes that made me angry at this book on more than one occasion.
Again, if they're supposed to be signs of the character's mental decline, instead of sloppy fact-checking, what do they mean? Why are they just left there with nothing made of them? Oh wait, this is the book where nothing that happens ever really pays off.
So, yeah. I really, really, really disliked this book.