Author – Caroline Kepnes
Published – September 2014
Genre – Psychological thriller
This is another debut novel by an author who already has a background in writing – both as a journalist (covering pop culture in the US) and for television. As with books like I Am Pilgrim and The Informant, this is evidenced by a clear and confident writing style, great use of pace and a credible voice for the characters.
I’ll start by prefacing my review with the caveat that this book probably isn’t for everyone. It is an unusual and exceptionally vivid portrayal of an obsessive relationship, the ‘relationship’ between the main characters is gripping and tense, but also sexually explicit and that might not be everyone’s cup of tea.
The story is told in the first person by Joe, who is running a bookstore (or shop as we say in the UK) in New York City. When Beck walks into his store (shop) he just knows that she’s the girl for him, even though all she does is buy some books and be pleasant, or at a push maybe a little flirty. But there are no boundaries for Joe and payment for the books by credit card is enough to get him started with what we would call stalking.
One of the strengths of the book is the use of the ‘stalker’s’ point of view to tell the story when we’re used to the victim being the focus. It’s not always clear in You whether the subject of Joe’s obsession is quite the conventional victim but there are certainly a few casualties amongst her friends along the way. I never really felt any empathy for Joe but I also didn’t feel a great deal for those who crossed him. Despite his warped view of the world and what is acceptable there was something quite fascinating about him. The different point of view means that the tension isn’t from anticipating what the stalker might do, which would be more effective from the victim’s pov, but in the relationship, in the sending of text or emails, in what the object of Joe’s obsession tells her friends and how he will interpret this.
An interesting thread running through the plot is the use of literature. From the opening scene in the bookstore, to some more critical later ones, Joe judges people on their book choices and their knowledge of what they’ve read. Now some of this did pass me by a bit as I’m not hugely familiar with all of the books mentioned but there was a use of older literature (Paula Fox) versus popular US fiction (King, Brown). This begins as seeming worthy and snobbish, but Joe’s attitude to the more popular end of the market changes as the book progresses.
The author makes good use of various social media and mobile phones, an aspect which although prevalent in everyday life doesn’t yet seemed to have found its way into crime fiction. She embraces the use of technology rather than trying to contrive situations which disable or remove it.
Did I also mention that this is a very funny book? There is a lot of humour – much of which is derived from the point of view Joe takes which is so different to the way ‘normal’ people might perceive things. There is also more laugh out loud humour – I particularly liked the use of ‘pantafuckingloons’ and hope to one day put it in a sentence of my own!
This is an unusual, absorbing and ultimately disturbing read and I thoroughly enjoyed it. If the use of many and varied profanities and some graphic sex scenes don’t put you off then be sure to read this book! (And if I felt I could recommend it to anyone without that caveat it would have been 5 stars.)
Thanks to the publisher for the review copy. You can see another point of view on My Book Muse.