What’s this? Another Wednesday and I’m reviewing something that isn’t my current read? Yep, yet again, I’ve had to resort to reading a short story in order to stick to my upload policy. There’s something about Shakespeare: The World As Stage by Bill Bryson that is making it difficult for me to finish. Although, I am in the midst of birthday week so I’ve had other things on my mind. So, what was I to do? Check Kindle Unlimited for an interesting sounding short story that I could finish in less than an hour today, obviously. There really was no thought beyond that. It was basically the first short story I came across that sounded interesting. I’d never heard of the author before or the short story collection that it came from. But I guess that’ the joy of having to read something for a review. You pick up things that you’d never have considered before. Whether that is a good thing or a bad thing.
Let’s look back to the end of 2017 when I foolishly decided that I would reread Murder on the Orient Express before I watched Kenneth Branagh’s film adaptation. Unfortunately, I started reading Autumn by Ali Smith and it took me all fucking month to get through it. So, I decided that this was the year when I would finally do it. And, today, nearly a whole month later, I closed the final page. I should just realise that December isn’t my reading month but, if I start doing that, I’d then have to admit that no month is my reading month. It’s why I can’t ever set myself a reading challenge unless it’s read 1 book. But, let’s not get too bogged down with 2019. We’re still in 2018 and, unless I miraculously gain the ability to read super quickly, this will be the last book I finish this year. So, let’s make this review a good ‘un.
So, this week may seem like something of a departure for someone who, only a couple of weeks ago, was ranting about how simplistic YA fiction is. And I realise that it is slightly hypocritical of me to then go on to read and review a teen horror novel from the 90s. However, I’ve been obsessing over this book for so long that I needed to reread it. I first read this book hen I was a teenager myself. I loved R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps books when I was a kid so, once I started to get a bit more mature with regards to my reading, I started to “borrow” my older sister’s Point Horror books. Most of them were forgettable but this one stayed with me. I don’t know of it’s because it was the first one I read or whether it was just the story itself but I’ve never forgotten it. Well, I didn’t remember the name of it. Which didn’t really matter until last year when I got an urge to find it again. So I went through every beach related title in the set and finally found it. I started reading it night after I’d finished Long Way Down and turned the final page the next day. What a blast from the past.
Gee there seem to be a lot of long films from the year I was born. Since starting this project, I have discovered something about myself. I have no problem is sitting in front of Netflix and binge-watching a load of 45 minute episodes of a TV show in one go but ask me to commit to a film longer than 90 minutes and all of a sudden I have loads of stuff I need to be doing. I am a ridiculous human being. But I’ve also had another very tiring week at work so the idea of sitting down to watch all 2+ hours of Rain Man just didn’t appeal. So I’ve been desperately searching for easy to consume films from 1988 that I can watch without much drama. It is a search that moved me in the direction of a film that wasn’t even a part of my original TBT film jar. Of course, this might mean that I’m breaking some sort of rule but I’m willing to do that for 1980s Rob Lowe. We’ve all seen him ‘playing’ saxophone in St Elmo’s Fire. We all know how sexy he is. Although, 1988 Rob Lowe is also the Rob Lowe who was dropped in the middle of a sex scandal but we’ll forget about that. He’s been in Parks and Rec since then: if we can’y say all is forgiven now then when can we?
Dear One Of Us Is Lying,
It’s books like you that make me say things like “I don’t like YA books. They’re all shit.” What I mean is, I don’t like shit YA books. Books like you. Books that, somehow, manage to get a load of hype around them even though they don’t deserve the attention. And what’s worse… you had the audacity to create a link between yourself and The Breakfast Club. As if you had what it takes to rub shoulders with pop culture royalty. As if you had any right to share in its flawless reputation. All you were doing was desperately trying to pass off its acclaim as your own. Because you knew you didn’t deserve to get any of your own.
I’ve read a fair share of crime thrillers in my time and, even if I do say so myself, have become pretty good at spotting who the killer is. I can, usually, see a big twist coming a fair few pages before it happens. Do you want to know when I spotted your twist ending coming? The first paragraph. I’m not even joking. On the very first page the killer, literally, announces his plans in front of another character. It’s so blatantly obvious that it’s not just annoying but insulting to your audience. You clearly think your readers are so fucking stupid that they’ll spend the next few pages really confused.
But you aren’t just guilty of bad writing. Oh no, you’re guilty of lazy writing. You don’t feature a well-crafted narrative that twists and turns its way to the end. Nope. You are chock full of YA stereotypes that have been done so much better elsewhere. The jock who is secretly gay but too afraid to come out? Seen it a thousand times. Do you really think you added to the debate? I don’t. It added nothing to the character and didn’t even feature an empowering ending. It was just an easy way to give a character depth. But you stopped there. Aside from their basic traits, your main characters have no personality. There is nothing interesting or realistic about any of them. They have even less depth than a supporting character in a romantic-comedy. I know fuck all about any of them.
You couldn’t be bothered to create realistic teenage characters or a realistic situation. You used real life issues and used them badly. You didn’t add any new insight into the narrative of suicide, homosexuality, or abusive relationships. Yet, you constantly used them as easy ways to progress your narrative. You carelessly throw these ideas around without any kind of care or attention. Yes, you are badly written, boring, obvious and lazy. But what is worse is that you don’t give a shit about your audience. You are potentially damaging. You are potentially triggering a whole bunch of your audience for cheap shocks and cheap emotional pull. It’s pathetic. You’re pathetic. You’re the worst book I’ve ever read… and I’ve read a lot of shit in my time.
Some [books] are too toxic to live
Dear Agatha Christie,
I admit that I probably took a bit of time actually getting around to reading your books. There were so many times that I’d heard them dismissed as “cosy crime” that I thought they were beneath me. They definitely sounded like the kind of thing that I, a super serious and embarrassingly pretentious literature student, shouldn’t be reading. I was, to put it mildly, an idiot. I cared so much about the image I was portraying that I stopped reading for enjoyment. When I remembered that was the main aim I was able to see what I’d been missing. I’ve had lots of enjoyable reading experiences over the years but none compare to your novels. Even now, when I reread books I know the ending to, I still find myself utterly engrossed in your plots. Still convinced that the ending I know is coming will never happen. I was a fool to dismiss you. But, in my defence, it’s not like I’m alone. So many people see you in a nostalgic light. As something silly and old that takes them back. You’ve essentially been categorised as an old friend, which you are, but it’s not the end of the story.
The thing is, you aren’t just “cosy crime”. I mean you are when compared to the identical examples of psychological thrillers that are being churned out every few months. Books like Gone Girl and Girl on a Train. The ones that need to rely on unnecessary violence and supremely grim ‘reality’ because it’s all they have. The truth is, for all the sexual violence and pseudo-psychology of these books, I hated them. They bored me. They weren’t well written and they were super obvious. I could tell from the first few chapters of Girl on a Train who the killer was and I stopped reading Gone Girl because it was blatantly obvious where Gillian Flynn was going with it. These books are all style and no substance… but they have that high fashion thing that nobody in the real-world really likes but has to accept because they don’t get it.
You’re books are the real deal. To dismiss them as “cosy” is the biggest injustice of all time. To refer to them as casual reading that you do between heavy reads is an insult. You didn’t write to shock your audience or to make headlines. You didn’t need to be the next big sensation. You wrote for real readers. Readers who don’t need thoughtless melodrama to excite them. You wrote well-plotted stories about characters that seem realistic. You had such a sense of people. That’s the reason your books have lasted. You understand the importance of the plot and what drives the plot. At the heart of every one of your murder mysteries is the one piece that moves everything else forward: the body. Once that’s in place, you have all the pieces you need to explore all aspects of humanity. To dig deep into the effect that evil has on the world. To question why people would commit murder. There’s a lot of depth people often refuse to see.
And yes, you also happen to have written some of the most exciting and shocking plot twists of all time. I remember the first times I read The Murder of Roger Aykroyd and And Then There Were None. I was genuinely shocked by the twists. I pride myself on being able to figure out where mystery writers are going with their plots but, more often than not, you stump me. You’re so detail focused that the reader becomes embroiled in the mystery. They don’t have a choice but to take on the role of detective and solve the crime too. Some of your endings were groundbreaking and still haven’t been surpassed to this day. Roger Aykroyd changed literature for fuck’s sake. It’s changed my view of you and of the genre.
You have written some of the most deceptive plots in all of literary history but the biggest piece of deception you are guilty of is your own writing. You manage to create books that can be enjoyed by people of various ages. They are simple enough for a younger reader whilst still with enough depth for a seasoned one. You skirt on the edge of darkness and evil without every firmly planting yourself in it. These are books that are so easily dismissed as childish and simplistic. But there is so much hidden away beneath the surface. You just need to engage you little grey cells to see it.
Very few of us are what we seem.