Customer Review

20 September 2016
In ‘On Writing’ Stephen King describes reading his future wife Tabitha’s poetry and becoming aware of ‘hidden cables’ that pulled it all together in ways that were hard to define. This first novel from Jason Arnopp is full of such a sensation, as well the sort of gulping, compulsive readability we associate with the author of ‘Carrie’.
It being the increasingly awful and unexpectedly stupid 21st century, not only is nothing in ‘The Last Days of Jack Sparks’ as it seems but everything from the title, the narrator AND the editor are so completely unreliable it’s a wonder the whole thing doesn’t fall apart. Such is the power of those ‘hidden cables’ tensing beneath the deceptively slick surface of the story, however, that we happily accept the characters making it up as they go along because we are rewarded with the depths of their self-delusion being horribly and satisfyingly illuminated.
Take the titular Jack. That isn’t even his real name; it’s Jacob; suitably biblical but not as hip. In his version of events, he is the unassailably cool and unapologetically obnoxious journo; a mover and shaker with balls of steel who is surrounded by hot women, including his gorgeous, pouty red-headed flatmate. And yet in another version he is a desperate man on the edge, trying to make sense of the occult with an intellect degraded by superficiality and a soul that was eroded by existential terror long before he decided to laugh out loud at an exorcism. Not that smart either, then, and that’s before we get the flatmate’s version of events.
It’s also increasingly hard to determine which last days the title refers to: his actual last days or the other ones, which may or may not have happened? Time itself becomes increasingly arbitrary in the story, bringing to mind the ease with which we can now edit our own lives, from convenient omissions on CVs to that app on the appropriately-named Facebook that lets you blot out spots.
As a journalist, horror buff and social media whizz, the author is uniquely placed to put a bracingly critical spin on all three of these elements. He understands that we know he is referencing ‘The Blair Witch Project’; he even has cameos from the original film’s directors (with their permission). Reality and unreality constantly blur in this story about how we have all become ‘possessed’ by social media and its attendant myths and insanities. That the haunting YouTube clip which is the first shivery touch of evil in the novel is actually not very good - it is recorded in dark with a phone - nails a paradox that is out of control in the real world: from Brexit to Trump, it’s more believable if it’s a bit rubbish.
Like all the best horror, this novel pins the reader down with a sense of total hopelessness, while at the same time teasing them with consummate narrative skill. Jason Arnopp pulls us giggling uneasily through the dread in a darkly satirical, often very funny meditation on what can go wrong when we lose all respect.
Talking of stupid, I read this book in a tent at night with a torch. Don’t do that, but do read ‘The Last Days of Jack Sparks’, preferably somewhere sunny, far away from your smartphone.
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