I’ve had this book on my radar for ages, from back in the days when a paperback copy cost something like three million quid or something to buy! But things are different now, so I just finished my nice shiny new copy, and thought I’d share my thoughts.
You’ve probably heard of this book and its cult status before, but if not, this review will have a few spoilers in it; spoilers I actually read in other reviews. So there’s my warning.
I’m going to try and write this review without mentioning Jack Ketchum’s brilliant and equally hard-to-read The Girl Next Door (whoops!!). Oh well, if you want to know my thoughts on that book then, ahem!
The basic plot of Let’s Go Play is five kids aged 10-17, decide to tie up the babysitter. You know, it’s something to do. What starts as an innocent (not quite the right word) little game suddenly descends into barbaric acts of torture. And things don’t end well for Barbara, said babysitter.
In my opinion, age hasn’t served this book well. I’m sure back in the 70s this was some shocking shit all right, but I’ve read plenty of gross, shocking, and downright ‘Whaaaaat???’ books, making this seem a little tame. Perhaps tame isn’t entirely true, as some things in this book will be shocking until the end of humanity as we know it.
I think my main gripe was that the whole thing didn’t seem that believable. I know you have to suspend your disbelief when reading fiction, but you know what I mean. And Barbara’s reactions to the methods of mistreatment seemed a bit ‘off’ and not nearly as soul-destroying as they should have been.
I must qualify my stance by saying that I am not and have never been a) a woman, b) a babysitter, or c) bound by a group of kids (actually not by anyone, not even in a kinky way). Barbara has, and I’d think that someone in her position would be a bit more savage and desperate than she was. Yeah, I know she’s not that type of person, but an extreme situation would surely bring with it an extreme reaction.
In particular, the part where she is raped. Again, I have now way of appreciating how utterly barbaric this is, but I’ve seen the news, watched documentaries, read books; surely she would have been more affected, especially being the kind of person she is. Instead of feeling utterly violated and used, as her virginity is savagely taken, no less; all she cares about is that she might be pregnant. Really? That’s your biggest beef?
Let’s change topic. The kids eventually realise this is not going to end well. They’ve humiliated her by removing her clothes, tortured her, intimidated her, done the aforementioned thing; there’s no way they can get away with this. So they decide there’s only one way out of this; they have to kill her.
Maybe police forensic departments were pretty substandard in the 70s, but surely the police would work out that their stories don’t match, they’re obviously hiding something because they’re kids and don’t seem the least bit traumatised by what happened – no kid is that good at acting!
But it seems that after they frame a random dude who’s loitering in the grounds of the massive house of the murder, everyone just accepts this and asks no questions. Perhaps it’s because this dude is an immigrant and looked down upon (it was the 70s), although I’m still not so sure. The kids, to be certain of erasing all evidence that can talk, kill him, too. So that’s 2 murders and all five of them are holding it perfectly together. Really?
My other main gripe was that I found some parts of the book just boring. At times I was skimming through sections and just getting the general gist of it all. Many passages just weren’t all that engaging.
I’m really laying into this book here, but it’s not all bad. On the most part the writing was pretty decent, although – there were lots – of these – bloody dashes!
The treatment of Barbara was, of course, pretty nasty, and the descriptions really took me into the bowels of the story. Each act of torture, or gagging, or tying, or violence, was realistic and vivid. And I did really want Barabara to escape, and for the kids to pay for their little shitted-ness.
Barbara’s sanity was pushed to – and beyond – its limit as the book reached its conclusion, and I did feel her mental state rapidly diminishing as she became aware of the ultimate plan for her. And the kids’ conversations about what to do with her, all carried out in a very democratic style, did seem the behaviour of children in over their heads. Which is why I just wasn’t buying that ending.
But saying all of that, this is still a book that’s a must read, if only to say you have. If you want a difficult read about torture and the depravity of the human condition (hey, who doesn’t?) I’d say check out The Girl Next Door first.
Categories: book review