Top critical review
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Good Horror, Decent Fiction, So-so Comedy
on 16 July 2015
It's probably my own fault but I can't help but feel a little underwhelmed with John Dies at the End. In certain circles at least, it's regarded as the perfect marriage of horror and comedy and I was mostly left a little disappointed with the humour. That said, the horror is quite effective in many cases and Wong injects a good deal of tension into several scenes. It's best to temper your expectations with this one.
I'll start with the negatives. I found the humour more consistently present than ever actually capable of producing a laugh. I appreciate Wong's commitment lack of embarrassment with juvenile humour, as it should be, but his particular brand just never really hit home for me. Particularly the titular John, who is clearly meant to be a zany dude who's a laugh a minute to be around, I found no more interesting or funny than any of the rest of the cast.
Another slight disappointment for me (which comes with a mild spoiler warning for anyone who wants to start reading with as little known about the plot as possible) was how the start of the book suggested the main characters might actually just be insane and that the paranormal goings on are all imagined. However, that idea is quickly brushed aside in favour of a plot with a much larger scale. It's not without its twists and turns but the implied ambiguity was intriguing.
The characters are also somewhat weak. Aside from the protagonist, characters seem to exist solely to serve a purpose and have very basic objectives of their own. Other characters are introduced and disappear again almost without any input to the story at all. While that fits somewhat with the somewhat dream-like quality much of the book has, it feels very much inorganic.
The plot was interesting, easily enough to hold my attention to the finish, though I think it was a little too explicit towards the end, explaining things that would have been more terrifying if they remained a mystery. It is also a bit meandery (is that even a word?), and you can almost tell that it was written and released in pieces. I strongly suspect Wong mostly made it up as he went along, or something close to it. It's the mysteries, though, that are the driving force behind the story that will push you to the last page, even if a few too many of them are demystified, in my opinion.
The best part of this book, as far as I'm concerned, is the horror. Wong crafts tension quite well in several places but it's more the creative, terrifying ideas that really sell it. Sure, some of Wong's influences are obvious but all the best horror plays on anxieties hard coded into the human psyche that are thousands of years old. Some almost familiar moments are to be expected.
Overall, I don't feel I wasted my time reading this book but at the same time I would hesitate to recommend it. For horror genre fans, it's definitely worth a look at least. For everyone else, there are likely more enjoyable reads out there for you to discover.