Friday, 19 February 2016
My Review of "You" by Caroline Kepnes
Wow! What a book! Stephen King is quoted on the back cover saying he has never read anything like this and I totally agree with him!
One one hand, this is a tricky novel to review. It's unpleasant. It's graphic in places. It's language is sometimes crude and offensive. Kepnes has done this to create the unforgettable, quietly threatening, unnerving character of Joe with absolute conviction and effect. On the other hand, it's an easy book to review because although it shocked me, it also gripped me and I was hooked until the dark unpleasant end and have been unable to forget about it ever since I turned the last page.
The story is about Joe and the day that Guinevere Beck, a bright, young, carefree girl who walks into the bookshop where he works. Joe becomes infatuated with her and wastes no time manipulating and orchestrating situations which will enable him to become Beck's "ideal" man. Beck and Joe embark on a relationship which can only lead her unsuspectingly into danger as Joe's obsession spirals out of control and he struggles to contain his truly menacing personality.
The most striking thing about this novel is that it is written in second person. It is Joe's voice addressing Beck.
"You walk into the bookstore and you keep your hand on the door to make sure it doesn't slam."
Telling the whole story from this angle is ambitious and extremely disconcerting. It increases the tension and the perturbing atmosphere. Kepnes handles this notoriously challenging
narrative style with ease. It is fluid, readable and captivating.
Of course this also means that we see all the action third hand through Joe's eyes. He is an unreliable narrator. He is delusional. His interpretations of events and reactions are one sided and inaccurate. Our whole relationship with Beck is founded on what is presented by Joe which makes it a fascinating read. Our reactions to other characters like the unlikable Benji, are also only formed by what Joe has decided to reveal so how sure can we be about what any of these people are really like?
Joe is a difficult narrator to form a relationship with. He is unhinged, dangerous and dysfunctional yet makes for compulsive reading. The novel is dense and initially quite slow paced as meticulous detail is shared by Joe and the way he plans to ensnare Beck is very thorough but I think this enables the reader to become completely immersed in his world. It is also a warning for anyone who indulges in social media - so much of you exists out there in cyberspace it is not difficult for Joe to worm his way into Beck's life and this makes the novel extremely modern and contemporary.
If it possible to "enjoy" the novel, then I "enjoyed" the second half a lot more and raced through it. I found the way Joe controlled the manner in which he presented himself as average, stable and ordinary when actually he is intelligent, methodical and deeply threatening, really intriguing. I constantly feared for Beck and was on tenterhooks all the way through the novel. I liked that at certain points I felt Joe softened and didn't have the courage to carry out his threats but then at other times realised he absolutely did. I also found Beck an interesting character. She is not a typical victim. The reader is not always completely sympathetic towards her. She is not always likeable. This adds more tension and makes it a more dynamic plot.
The ending is thrilling. It leaves the reader uncomfortable and chilled. I will be haunted by this story. It is unique. If you can prepare yourself for the sexually explicit scenes and language, you will be rewarded by meeting one of the most dysfunctional and angry narrators I've come across in recent fiction.
Having sat down to write this review a few days after finishing the book and after posting brief feedback on Goodreads, I realise that Kepnes is a very accomplished and skilled writer. As a female author it must be a huge achievement to capture a male voice so convincingly and to maintain so consistently over 420 pages. I'm off to change my rating to 5 stars.
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