Sunday, 1 May 2016

You by Caroline Kepnes: Review

4 stars

'You' is American Psycho updated for the social media age. It's got the incisive commentary on pop culture, the satirical derision towards extravagant lifestyles, and the disturbing content to top it all off with a neat little bow. 

Joe Goldberg is a stalker. A stalker of the 'I'm going to steal your used tampon and keep it in a shrine I've made for you' variety. An obsessive so hopelessly deluded, he can justify murder if it helps him achieve his prey's unadulterated attention. A despicable, heinous human being who also made me laugh uncontrollably, as if he were some really, really messed-up version of Deadpool.

In Chapter One we meet Joe working as a bookseller, watching from his bookstore's counter as he meets Guinevere Beck for the first time. Whilst simultaneously ripping into his customer's book-buying choices ('The Da-Vinci Code' doesn't stand a chance for most of this novel), of course. The bookstore and Joe's continuous references to famous novels is Kepnes' lens through which she eviscerates pop culture; where Bret Easton Ellis used Patrick Bateman's obsession with fashion trends, Kepnes uses good old-fashioned paperbacks. The bookish references are almost a way of studying the voyeurism prevalent in modern media-oriented society: Joe is fixated on watching romantic films, constantly comparing his beloved Beck to actress Natalie Portman. Joe's obsession with fictional characters, those who live on the silver screen or between the pages of books, echoes his obsession with real-life women. Like the way we rewatch films and reread books to see our favourite characters once again, Joe constantly watches Beck go about her life
, occasionally taking mementos from her apartment to review over and over again.

Over time, Joe manipulates his way into Beck's life, orchestrating their twisted romance through all manner of immoral deeds. From stealing her phone to stalk her E-mails, to enraged yet calculated murder, Joe employs all the tricks in the book to get what he wants. As an unreliable narrator, Joe's volatile and often inaccurate perceptions of other people are fascinating. His obsessive, violent tendencies grow more and more as the novel progresses, and the tension is amped up as the full extent of his unhinged nature is gradually revealed.

What I loved most about 'You' was the undercurrent of dark humour lacing the novel like arsenic. Joe has a talent for witty, acerbic character assassinations, and Kepnes uses this to transform him into a likeable villain. He's a twisted antihero who somehow makes you prefer him to all of the other horrible (but non-murderous) characters populating the novel. I particularly loved Joe's acidic commentary on Beck's vacuous friend Peach; his passive-aggressive taunts had me laughing out loud. His interactions with the almost-insufferable 'Princess Benji' were also viciously entertaining. And not only is Joe's wit hilarious, but so is the sheer silliness of his love-struck delusions. His narrative voice, creepily addressed to Beck in the second person, is sinister and obscene and funny all at the same time. 

Overall, 'You' was a riveting mix of thrills and comedy that I would highly recommend if you're looking for an entertaining, yet well-written read.

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