You—Caroline Kepnes

Fiction

Because I have mixed feelings about this novel, I spent yesterday evening—after finishing the book—wondering if I should write a post about it at all. It’s possible and even probable that I will be flip-flopping, so please bear in mind that I don’t have a fully-formed opinion about it yet. It could be that in writing this post—which I have obviously decided to write—that I will end with something somewhat cohesive.
It’s the first book of its kind that I have read—and by its kind, I mean a novel about a stalker. I should elucidate: a stalker whose main tool for accomplishing said stalking is his use of the internet and social media. It gets points from me for originality, but I am sure there are many other books about stalkers that I have not read, and I am sure there will be more, from this author or from others.
I need to mention that this book needed to be written, because internet privacy is inexistent and people don’t seem to be conscious of it, myself included. It is necessary to know about privacy and I think young girls should read it—hoping of course that the intertextuality and music references don’t go over their heads!

There are definitely things about this novel that deserve praise, and one of them is the genuine psychological traits of each character. Everyone’s got something, and if that’s not true to life then I don’t know what is, though I feel like the parts of characters we see are the tip of the iceberg. Again, that’s true to life, though in fiction I think we like to get more information as quickly as possible so that we feel we know the characters inside and out. This is not always possible with real people in real life.

So. Narration. I had a hard time getting into this book because it is written in the second person and I find the tone off-putting and accusatory. After getting a quarter of the way through, I got used to the style and I understand why it was done that way, but that is not to say that I liked it any better after that point.

In fact, I didn’t.

So the thing about a book and about having a narrator at all is that there is a narraror, and one must be aware of that and understand that the story is being told from the perspective of someone. That someone might not even necessarily be the author either, and generally isn’t. The Book Thief is narrated by Death, but Death did not write the book, but Markus Zusak did, writing as Death, so we have the sensibilities of both the author and the narrator. Someone who writes a memoir is the narrator though, so you are only seeing through one sensibility, which is definitely not to say that it is more reliable a text. Because the narrator could be a persona or construction of the author, not only is a story and is written down and thus removed from immediacy and fact, it is also removed by the fact that there is a narrator and we are always wondering about how reliable that narrator is.

So the narrator. Let’s open that can of worms.

The particular narrator in this novel is a stalker and a murderer, though we don’t know the latter initially. It is in the first person and in the present tense so there are sentences like “You are texting me right now.” but in actual fact it would be hard for him to be walking down the street reading a text, answering the text, and on top of it writing the novel that we as readers are reading. He is supposed to be 17 and yet he is the manager of a bookstore. It seems to me that he is a lot older than he says he is, and his confidence and prowess mirror that assumption. And holy crow, does the guy have spare time. But I guess that is a must for a stalker.

If he was in his mid-to-late-twenties I would have found it more believable, but it does not take much to distrust a narrator. Not that I trust him at all—he is a stalker—and all the psyclological baggage that goes along with being one.

I imagine it was a complicated piece to write, and all things said, very well done. It might not jive with me but it probably took lots of planning—and lots of guts—to write.

To talk a bit about the main female character and object of the narrator’s obsession, Beck, is in the process of getting her MFA and it got me a little bit worked up because all it seemed like she was doing was sleeping around and only writing an eensy weensy bit. I’m not sure. I got through my Bachelor’s in Creative Writing in Literature and it was hard, and I assume a Master’s is harder and more pointed, more focused, and so on. Do we see her actually writing anything, anything she herself thinks is worthy? A writer needs to be a ‘writer who writes’ and works hard and I am not convinced she is who she is portrayed to be, but that also ties in to the reliability of the narrator. I saw her more as a college student taking a writing class that she loves, but as I said, we see through his filter.

Beck’s first name is Guinevere, invoking that great beauty, and of course, adultery.

Please take this post lightly. The book did not make me feel good in any way, and I didn’t like any of the characters, but despite that I feel like it is one of those creepy books that stays in your mind for a long time, and some people consider those retained memories a part of what makes a book good. I think a book like this is supposed to make a person feel uncomfortable and gross. If it makes someone feel good…I would start to worry about them.

Also this quote:

“Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.”

The commentary on human nature is—what can I say? Frightening.

When I finished it, to my shock, there was a snippet of the sequel. I’m not going to read it but I am going to start counting my knickers.

Best and until next time,

AF