Wednesday 4 November 2015

Reviewed: Savage Lane by Jason Starr

Savage Lane was published by No Exit Press on October 22, 2015.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of this book to review.

Savage Lane is a dark thriller about a small neighbourhood fuelled by fantasy and obsession, observing how rumours and secrets can lead to grisly consequences. Mark is married to Deb but is put off by her constant boozing and is harbouring a pretty graphic obsession with his neighbour, Karen, who is recently divorced and constantly judged by the people around her. Deb is suspicious of Mark’s intentions towards Karen, and Karen’s intentions towards Mark, but she has her own secret to hide and her secret has their own secret and their secret has more secrets and basically every single difficult to like person of the questionably named Savage Lane has a secret – and I had to know every single one of them. Never have I read a book with such detestable characters and found it so utterly readable and unputdownable – getting through it quickly in less than 24 hours and feeling like I’d been taken on one heck of a seedy journey. No, I didn’t like the characters nor the things they got up to. I could only sympathise with one of them and only just. But liking the characters doesn’t always translate to liking a book because I did find this a very entertaining read.

Savage Lane is very character driven and there were two people in particular who fascinated me the most. One I won’t name to avoid spoilers but the other main one was Mark, who was evidently creepy but interesting to read about all the same. He had a very obsessive personality though we later on discover he’s not the only one. I cringed on Karen’s behalf when he read into her words and body language so much, building up the only reason and picture he wanted in his mind – clearly Karen was in love with him too. I found it equally gross and compelling how far he envisaged things between them in his mind, how quickly the story of their fantasy relationship developed for him – so much so he almost had me convinced at one point. The mental state of most of the characters in this book was very dubious.

We do get a strong insight into each of the main characters, except one who was introduced quite late on, brought into the story almost like we were already meant to know their backstory, when we didn’t. Other than that one, each character felt well defined and developed with very interesting motives and thought-processes (thought-processes from mostly senseless people admittedly). With every chapter, we were back with a different character and the story picked up from when we’d heard from them last which did mean that we got to hear the same story but through the eyes of different characters. Though that made sure not a twist was missed, it did feel a bit disjointed and repetitive to me at times as I would have liked the narrative to always be moving forwards rather than back and forth. Having said that, I did enjoy the mostly surprising twists that cropped up including one shocking twist that caught me off guard early on and changed the whole course of the story I was expecting.

Frankly, most of the characters in this book were ruled by a body part that wasn’t their brain and it became a bit samey when sex appeared to be the only thing on all the characters’ minds. With the narrative relying on its characters to lead it, I wondered how I would feel if I didn’t take to any of the characters and I didn’t – there was nothing good I wanted to see happen to them. But it was the extreme fantasies and lengths they would stretch to that had me immersed in the story and I laughed my way through some of the obscure moments and ideas the characters came up with. There was humour in their absurdity and in their desperation, as well as in the actions of a very closed in town where everybody knew, or thought they knew, everybody else’s business.

Most of the appeal of this book for me was that at the beginning, the characters seemed to be relatively normal people just a little bit carried away with the stories their minds kept on coming up with and then as the book progresses, you see how layer upon layer of fantasy can work its way into a complete comprehensible life in your own mind – how if anybody thinks about something unobtainable for long enough it no longer feels that way, only pure and real and when the characters in this book allowed reality to hit, the consequences were screwed up and horrific. I wasn’t sure any of the characters had it in them to learn from their mistakes, but I had fun finding out. Though it may appear a bit like an over-the-top soap opera, the carnage is very much gripping, disturbing and completely enthralling. It’s impossible to not get caught up in life in Savage Lane as things spiral out of control.

A very disturbing psychological thriller about a town built on fantasy and obsession

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