This book is going to stay with me for a while. Try as I may, I don’t think I’ll ever work it out. But am I really supposed to?
This review teeters on spoilery, but knowing a little about the plot will not hinder any enjoyment gained from this brilliant book.
Martin Gregory is a regular guy. He has a loving wife, 2 dogs affectionally referred to as ‘the boys’, a good job, everything that many would consider to be perfect.
Great husband as he is, he decides to surprise Anna on her birthday with a pile of presents, and a secret, mysterious box containing something truly wonderful.
But on the morning of her special day, he wakes up, goes downstairs and commits an act so horrifying and out of character without any thought of the consequences. Even though this happens at the beginning of the story I’m not going to say what it is.
Suddenly enraptured by what he assumes is guilt, Martin disappears leaving the birthday girl all alone and very confused.
He’s not off-the-radar, as it were, and so is soon referred by his GP and family friend, to see a psychiatrist. Martin is reluctant to undergo therapy, though. He cannot understand why he did what he did, but worries about doing it again, or something similar, so eventually agrees to help.
Anna is obviously troubled by his behaviour, but believes he’s in the best possible hands to try and help him with his troubles.
After his first session, Dr Somerville, the quack, suggests hypnosis to get to the bottom of Martin’s predicament. But both he and Martin get more than they bargained for.
Martin relives past lives through hypnosis. These lives go way back and are seemingly unrelated on the surface, but delve a little deeper…
Has Martin been here before? Does his life have a purpose he is destined to accomplish? Or is he just crazy?
Dr Somerville is convinced Martin is unwell and being in therapy is the best course of action available. Well, he would wouldn’t he? I’m sure the dollar signs were lighting up right before his very eyes.
Martin, on the other hand, thinks he’s quite sane. But who’s right?
And that is the brilliance of this novel; you never really know. Both sides have a story to tell. The majority of the book is told by Martin and he’s quite the unreliable narrator.
Or is he?
As well as Martin’s telling of the tale, there are excerpts from his diary as well as medical reports and telephone call logs from Dr Somerville. Both accounts greatly contradict each other and you read it wondering who exactly to believe.
One case in point; Martin mentions how Dr Somerville mimics his mannerisms during consultations and how he feels this is some kind of psychological ‘trick’ or attempt to manipulate him; either way it makes him suspicious. We then hear Dr Somerville explaining, in his notes, Martin doing the exact same thing and how he feels this is a subconscious reaction.
So who’s telling the truth? Exactly!
The narrative switches between first person past-tense to first person present-tense, sometimes paragraph to paragraph. At first I wondered whether the editor had had a day off at this point, but the switching really enhances the irrationality of Martin’s mental state. It doesn’t ‘flow’ like you’d expect, but reading the story told by a supposed mad man would never be coherent, would it?
This book throws more questions at you than answers. Ordinarily I’d find this frustrating; not that I need everything wrapped up perfectly, but a nice conclusion to a story is satisfying, most of the time.
Here, there is none of that. Right up until the end I didn’t know if Martin was genuinely crazy or whether this whole series of events was dreamed up by Somerville. It’s never explained and I sure didn’t get any subtle clues either way. Perhaps they were there, perhaps not. Maybe it is up for the reader to decide exactly what’s going on, and different people will have different interpretations on what actually happened. And isn’t that a great thing?
The blurb puts it perfectly. “…Martin Gregory is either lost in a dark maze of madness and horror, or is frighteningly sane.”
This book is labelled as a horror novel, but it really isn’t. Yes it has a couple of horrific scenes and is pretty disturbing throughout, but it’s definitely leaning more towards the fast-paced thriller label.
I really can’t recommend this enough. Crazed mad man, or dude manipulated with psychotic precision? You decide.
Categories: book review