31 May 2014

Nerdsville Book Club: Eeeny Meeny, By M.J. Arlidge

A few months ago, my fellow blogger friends Ragini, Isha and I realized that we share more than a love of fashion, body confidence and quirky styling: a passion for literature. Those of you who are recurring readers of mine have probably stumbled upon more than one post referring to my binge reading or qualms with film adaptations of certain beloved books! We began chatting via social media about starting up a book club, and were slowly joined by Cynthia and Charlotte in the banter. Thanks to Isha’s exceptional organization skills, a Facebook page was created and a group e-mail session set up. We all came to the decision that our reviews and commentary on our chosen monthly book would be best posted onto our individual blogs, but we will be linking to each other’s pages so that hopefully readers will check out what we all have to say. These are beautiful, intelligent women whose writing and input I cherish, and I am so pleased to be part of this Nerdsville Book Club with them.
Our May book, chosen by Charlotte, is Eeeny Meeny, by M.J. Arlidge.
Eeeny Meeny is high-end British drama producer M.J. Arlidge’s debut novel, and it shows – at times, in refreshing bursts of energy and life, but at others, in painful, borderline offensive comments that have the potential to be funny (ish), but come off instead as offensive due to poor editing and seemingly rushed writing:

“Could a woman have dragged Sam by herself – all twelve stone of him – or would she have needed an accomplice?” (43) – Just one quick example.

“She kind of looked like a social worker, except she wasn't depressed and her clothes were all right” (107) – Maybe one more.

As a rookie novelist, Arlidge’s thriller is filled with possibilities – moments during which you think, “This is it. Things are going to get good now,” but said instances are quickly trumped by plot developments that seem crudely inserted in at the last minute, and hyperbolic events with little purpose other than shock factor.

Arlidge’s story itself is one that on paper should greatly appeal to me. His novel, which follows a pattern of abductions, imprisonments, starvation and psychological and physical torture, puts the characters through some of the nastiest situations imaginable. Their humanity is tested. Their morality challenged. In order to escape, prisoners must kill or be killed. But like any good psychopathic villain, their kidnapper has planned their captivities carefully, of course. The pairs are not strangers. They are couples, mother and child, friends, business partners, colleagues supposedly fighting for the same cause. When your survival depends on taking the life of someone you know well – of someone you love more than life itself in some cases – what do you do? Who do you sacrifice? Do you choose to die?

The reason writers like Hubert Selby Junior (Requiem for a Dream) and Tracy Letts (August: Osage County) appeal to me is because they have the beautiful ability to put their characters through raw, unthinkably gruesome struggles, and analyze the strengths and weaknesses of homo sapiens’ minds and hearts along the way. They highlight our fragility, our instinctual self preservation, our loyalty (or lack thereof) toward others. The reality is that most of us are only human, and grim tales of suffering often (not always) fascinate us. For me, there needs to be more to a tale than blood for the sake of blood, though. There must be emotion. There must be profoundness tucked within the words on the page. As we watch Detective Inspector Helen Grace discover one set of murders after another, we fear for her stability. Her background, predominantly unclear to us, is one we at least know has come with its share of toils. Her mental release of choice, coated in sadomasochistic tendencies, leaves much to be desired for her psychological safety, and we do remain on edge, waiting to discover her fate.

But it is the prisoners who keep us gripped time after time. Had we seen fewer victims up close, the story would have quickly become obsolete and drifted toward the land boring books set aside to collect dust. It is that we always know there will be more – and suspect that even our main characters are at danger – that keeps us reading. And though the profoundness I crave in my literature – that thing that makes you reflect and remember a book days, weeks and years to come –  is somewhat absent, I could not help become immersed in the victims’ outcomes. Who would kill who? Who would take their own life? Would any pair choose to die together?

Arlidge succeeds in that he makes readers question why they personally are attracted to such tales, and in keeping us sufficiently entertained so that we read the book to its end, where we then find out it will have an unnecessary sequel to it. But he does not succeed in convincing us that he is a good writer. Often, he drifts into cliché and mainstream moralistic phrasing. His career in television transpires through passages and full graphs that come off as blatant stage direction rather than literature. But alas, Arlidge entertained. It is that his goal seemed purely to do so, and not to impact and challenge and relay deep thought, that bothered me.

Eeny Meeny has potential. That we know from early on that the villain is a woman is an interesting plot line in and of itself. Stories along similar genres tend to feature men as the evil geniuses behind the series of unfortunate events we are presented with. That it tests people to its limits in physical, psychological and emotional capacities is gripping. But that the author seemed to rush the story – seeming not to give much thought to his words or how far and deep and subsequently more interesting he could make them – left me somewhat vacant and unsatisfied.

While not my favorite, and certainly not a future repeat read, I do think this book has potential for those interested in crime fiction or horror, especially on the screen. Oftentimes Eeny Meeny felt like a TV script, and while that just didn't work for me in this case, it definitely might for someone else. It's important, I find, in literature and in life, to drift outside your comfort zone and delve into new things. I don't have much experience with crime/horror fiction or film, so this read was a rewarding experience overall.

For more, check out these lovely ladies' posts:

Ragini on A Curious Fancy

2 comments:

  1. You're writing is just so good! Yes, I agree with you that this could have been so much better. I wish there had been more dedication to the captives; the backstories felt rushed, like a means to an end. There could have been something really special there with more care. I don't think I'll be reading the rest of the series as I don't see how it could possibly work.

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    1. Thank you Isha! More dedication to the captives would have been great. I do feel there was loads that could have been done with the story to make it better, and more unique, but the author fell short. Definitely don't think I will be reading the sequel, but still enjoyed the reading experience, if not the book.

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