Wednesday, 14 April 2010
Blueeyedboy is darker and far more complex than Joanne Harris's first psychological thriller, Gentleman and Players.
Set once again in the Yorkshire town of Malbry, it's the cleverly-plotted story of BB, a man in his 40s who lives with his mother and works in a dead-end job.
Sitting at home, BB spends his spare time caught up in a virtual world. He has set up a website called badguysrock and reinvented himself online. Using the moniker of blueeyedboy, he churns out a series of murderous fantasies featuring real-life friends and enemies.
But BB, it soon emerges, is an unreliable narrator. Harris herself has likened her novel to a Rubik’s cube, which twists and turns with no obvious solution in sight, and readers have to keep their wits about them to decipher what is fact and what is fiction.
One thing’s for certain, though - the devious BB is not what he seems. Harris gradually reveals the murky secrets of his past, including his toxic relationship with his mother (a chilling figure who collects hideous china dogs, forces her sons to wear the same colour each day and whips them with an electrical cord when they transgress), his feud with his two brothers, a string of unsolved local murders and the mystery of a blind girl prodigy who can “see” music.
Best-known for the fabulous Chocolat, her first novel, Harris began this book with a few fragments of plot and admits she was stunned by where it led her. During the course of her research she spent hours online, made friends using a pseudonym and became fascinated by the way people can choose how to portray themselves. As BB himself points out, “as long as it stays a fantasy, who really cares which role we adopt?”
Interestingly, each chapter of Blueeyedboy takes the form of a post on a web-journal. Some are public, some are private, but each specifies the mood of the writer, the time of day and the soundtrack they happen to be listening to. On public entries there’s even a comments box.
Harris has described her novel as principally a “black comedy, not to be taken entirely seriously.” I’d beg to differ. This is an ingenious, gripping read – but far from finding it comic, it terrified the living daylights out of me.
Blueeyedboy by Joanne Harris. Published by Doubleday, £18.99.
Emma's rating - ***