Book Review: Black Chalk

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Marcel Berlins, The Times

An inventive and intricate psychological puzzle thriller that mystifies, torments, disturbs, beguiles… a powerfully intelligent debut.

Psychologies

A truly chilling thriller, with campus-fun-gone-wrong echoes of Donna Tartt’s The Secret History.

Daily Mail

[A] chilling debut… this is a thriller, a cautionary tale and a sobering exploration of unintended consequences rolled into one.

Jessica Papin, Publishers Weekly

Psychological thrillers don’t get much more complex or twisted than Yates’s promising debut… The narrator’s unreliability is established early on with his assurance that he “absolutely” is not trying to trick the reader. Yates deftly interweaves past and present as he doles out the backstory in pieces without sacrificing plausible character development.

 

MY THOUGHTS

When reading through the first few pages, I almost had to stop reading. I’ve become so accustomed to seeing double quotation marks when reading dialogue, that when it’s just an apostrophe, I think it’s a thought. Christopher Yates, author of Black Chalk, uses the single quotation mark as he’s a British author, and page after page, I had to keep reminding myself that this is the right way in British English.

But that wasn’t the only immediate thing that made me stumble as a reader. There were no chapters. Instead there were roman numerals numbering each section of text. Sometimes it would be pages without another set, and sometimes it would just be a paragraph. Initially, I didn’t know what these accomplished, but I figured out as I read more that it may have ben to help with the time lapses between scenes, as well as the time jumps between the past and the present. Regardless, it still confuses me and I fail to see the point.

However, there were many promising things about this novel that I pushed through my personal roadblocks. The concept was one that was truly intriguing and something I haven’t really read before. I was curious how the author was going to execute it, as the plot was bound to be complex. Unfortunately, I think it was too complex, even for the author to write. It was just too confusing, with the constant time jumps and the almost manic thoughts and actions of the narrator of the story. For the first half of the book, you think it’s one character, and then the narrator himself says he’s someone else.

We don’t really get into the meat of the story until more than half the book is already over, which is something that I thought was strange. The buildup to “The Game” was too much. By the time we figured out what was going on and what really happened, it was over-hyped and not as dramatic or shocking as it should have been. I was disappointed, as the story after this part became rather predictable. It was just a matter of time before certain things happened, and it was easy to see where everything would be falling into place.

I liked the relationship between Jolyon and Chad. Jolyon was the leader of the group and turned out to be our narrator, while Chad was taken under Jolyon’s wing and shown the ropes of social interaction. Over the course of the novel, the relationship between the two changes, and Chad is slowly becoming the top in the group, and the cracks in Jolyon’s mind start to present themselves. The whole story centers around the relationship between these two men, and the other characters are almost just filler. We don’t get to see them develop, and even with the scenes they are in, there is almost nothing to them to make them worthwhile. There’s no depth, nothing that makes them stand out from the rest of the story.

For the first half of the story, we get to see so far inside of Chad’s mind, that we automatically assume that he must be the narrator and the changes we see in him aren’t that good. He goes from being the quiet, sweet, nice guy to a twisted, sadistic person who doesn’t care who he hurts. And as for Jolyon, we see what has become of him after the game and how those little cracks in the beginning have affected his life after the “end” of the first Game.

I don’t know if this is going to be continued into a series, but the way the story ended was anything but answered. Chad runs off, leaving his family and commitments that he made to “The Game,” while we are left with Jolyon still struggling to recover his mind and rejoin society. We don’t know what the role of the Game Society was, let alone who they are, and what they want now that the game is over. I feel like as soon as we learned what happened during “The Game” and what it actually was, the story was over. WE don’t know what really happened to Jack and Emilia, other than they are married. There’s just so much unexplained, which would make sense for a follow-up story, but I feel like we didn’t get enough information through the story to warrant wanting to go further in the series.

]Disclaimer: I received a free e-book download via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]

Rating: 2/5 Stars

AMAZON          BARNES AND NOBLE          GOODREADS

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