Orbit, out now
Jack Sparks – investigative writer. On the trail of perhaps his most important story yet: is there life after death? Should one laugh at the Devil? Are there truly more things than are thought on in our philosophy? Or should he publish and be damned?
Jason Arnopp’s debut novel is both hysterically funny at times, and deeply horrific, treading that fine line that so many authors strive for and fail to achieve: making the reader laugh while scaring the living daylights (or much more!) out of them. The horrific parts almost creep up on you, sometimes working because of what Arnopp doesn’t describe and then other times being as visceral as a giallo.
The story is helped by a very contemporary writing style – most of the book is Jack’s own account of what happens to him, and it’s made very obvious up front by the introduction that he’s the epitome of the unreliable narrator. Some of his unreliability is indicated by the documents which his brother appends to the narrative – interviews with people that Jack has interacted with, who present a slightly different (or sometimes completely different) slant on the events we’ve just heard about – but some of the things he bullshits about aren’t immediately obvious.
If you love the convoluted narrative of something like Steven Moffat’s Doctor Who or 12 Monkeys (film or TV series), you’re going to lap this up – you may end up a few steps ahead of Jack at times (particularly on the rare occasions he’s being totally honest with himself/the reader), and Arnopp doesn’t cheat, making sure that everything the reader needs is there. Although the story is heavily plot-driven, there’s plenty of strong character building too, with those involved in Jack’s quest, particularly Bex, feeling three-dimensional.
Verdict: A very strong debut. 9/10