“The saviour of mankind will be suicide and its prophets are serial killers and film makers – apparently.”
Right then, OK, where do I start with this one? I don’t often struggle with writing reviews, it’s usually pretty easy to sum up what I liked about a book, giving small details of the plot alongside what people may or may not find enjoyable.
But this offering from Chris Kelso has me head scratching somewhat.
First things first then; this trilogy is captivating, stomach-churning, at times a very difficult read, but ultimately brilliant.
The three novellas contained within are Shrapnel Apartments, Unger House Radicals, and Ritual America. All three are set in the same desolate and nihilistic world, with the whole trilogy reading as one complete piece. I read Unger a few years ago, long before I reviewed stuff, though if I had I would have probably struggled with what to say about it, as I am now.
Ahem, deep breath, lets get things started.
Instead of talking about each novella separately I’m going to combine them all in this review, it seems the best way of doing it as the thing reads more like a novel anyway. There is no ‘plot’ per se, instead the whole world and tales from within its wretched streets and woodland are presented in a semi-coherent narrative, with multiple timelines and seemingly unrelated characters, that sort of thing. It’s important to say that this is completely intentional from Kelso, and not simply the ramblings of a mind full of ideas with no end product in sight.
These stories of transgressive fiction could almost have been designed to become a show directed by David Lynch. Take Florence Coffey; a girl of 13 who has died multiple times, who in each new resurrection suffers in much the same way all over again. It’s as though her destiny is to be destroyed.
Or perhaps that serial killer who may have been here before in a different life and will continue his work in various guises or even timelines.
Is there a cosmic puppet master at play controlling everything? Is there an inherent evil hiding in the woods?
Are you lost? Good, because that’s how this book makes you feel; desperate and lost, and loving every second of it.
Unger House Radicals, the second story, takes place before the events of the first, so having read this one before gave me more of an understanding of the world into which I was delving. In this tale a young film maker wants to do something to change the world. He’s tired of the sterility of Hollywood and longs to make something of true artistic purpose. Enter a dude who’s spent his life (and possibly many others) vindictively inflicting suffering upon others, and spilled much blood in the process. When he meets our young wannabe director (after murdering someone, obviously), the pair head off to make their film.
It may appear as just another snuff film, but this soon-to-be-important and ignominious work spawns the movement of The Ultra-Realists, a cult that is the main driving force of the whole trilogy. The pair become infamous, their work transfixing an entire generation. It seems the only way to continue their ‘art’ is to bring the human race to mass suicide.
The legend of this movie is spoken of in Shrapnel Apartments, a kind of reality TV show that immerses its contestants in suffering; something the viewers are all too happy to indulge in. It seems humanity is destined to see and embrace the art in death and the darker extremities of the human condition.
And I haven’t even mentioned Blackcap or King Misery. These beings, deities, demons – call them what you will – are the ones responsible for the end of humanity. It’s not delivered in black and white exactly what these cosmic entities are or whether they are really the cause of suffering, but those immersed in the happenings in these stories sure seem to believe in them.
Or are they just crazy? Did man create evil, celestial beasts, or did these beasts create the evil in man?
It’s this guessing game that makes the whole thing so immersive. At times I was left wondering just what in the hell was going on, but never enough to put the thing down and take a breather. Although saying that, there are plenty of occasions when some readers may want to. There are many taboos broached here, some very upsetting (although not for me as I’m a cold-hearted bastard, or something).
I still don’t feel like I’m doing this trilogy justice, it’s really something that you need to experience for yourself. I read the ebook version of this and while it was amazing (I think you may have gathered I enjoyed it) I really feel the experience would be completed by owning the physical version in my hand, as there is some great and harrowing artwork contained that really adds to the dark, misanthropic nature of the stories.
If you’d tick any of the following; David Lynch, transgressive fiction, non-linear narratives, subject matter that may turn your stomach, the downfall of society; then you really need to check this out.
And quickly. Before Blackcap consumes us all.
Categories: book review