"Take no heed of her...She reads a lot of books."
~Jasper Fforde

Friday, June 10, 2011

The Possession of Mr. Cave

This has to be one of the most powerful books I've read in a long time. Dark, disturbing, and deeply psychological, this was one book that had me on the edge of my seat until the very last page! I know I speak highly of many books, but there was something about this one in particular that really captured my attention.

Terence Cave's life is spiraling out of his control. A single father, he's forced to raise two teenage children, with only his meddling, but caring mother-in-law Cynthia to help him. Then, the unthinkable happens: Terence witnesses the death of his son Reuben, arriving on the scene just in time for the boy to die in his arms. As he tries desperately to cope with what has happened, he finds himself at odds with his remaining child, his daughter Bryony. At first, Terence believes that she is only grieving, but soon, Bryrony's behavior starts to alarm him. She starts becoming distant, hanging out with strange people, and worst of all, dating one of the apathetic, unfeeling young men who watched Reuben die. As Terence's world crumbles, he tries to do everything in his power to stabilize his family life once again. But, as he becomes more and more desperate, even going so far as to stalk Bryony whenever she leaves the house, it soon becomes apparent that his desires to protect those he cares about could actually destroy everything.

I was first introduced to Matt Haig during my senior year AP English class when Donna, my English teacher idol offered his novel The Dead Father's Club as an extra credit assignment. I don't remember much about the book. I vaguely believed that I liked it well enough, but I do remember that the ending left me confused, and launched a twenty minute debate with Donna over the ambiguous scene. So, while I had nothing against the novel, it was not as though I felt compelled to check out all of Haig's other books. In fact, I would have been cool with just the one. I actually found The Possession of Mr. Cave while looking for H. Rider Haggard's King Solomon's Mines (LXG Reading Challenge-- Alan Quartermain); that wasn't there, but this was, and the title seemed interesting enough. The description peaked my curiosity, and I tossed the book in my library bag as a little reading fodder. I had no idea that when I picked it up at 2 o'clock in the morning that it would not only peak my interest immediately, but that I would finish it within twenty-four hours of starting.

Besides being a fascinating read, this book also provided some interesting ideas for me as a writer. It really made me think about the importance of a narrator, and how to cope with one that may or may not be totally reliable. Two of the pieces I've been working on (one is a novella; the other is a short story), involve "unreliable" narrators. One, is incredibly defensive, and biased toward herself, even though she does not admit it. The question I hope it will raise in the reader is whether or not she is telling the whole story; not that she is lying to them, but whether or not she is omitting information. The other narrator talks about seeing certain things and experiencing certain things during a night of horror; the question for him is whether or not he is capable of giving the true story; his perception is marred by both alcohol and fear. Therefore, is he even capable of telling the truth? With Haig's Terence, I found myself sympathizing with him without question, but as the narrative continued, I couldn't help but wondering if he was completely in his right mind, and if I should believe him. Oftentimes, the reader can forget that just because you have a narrator telling the story, doesn't mean that they are right; especially with first person narrations.

If you have an interest in psychological thrillers, then this is a book I highly recommend. It's a quick read, and very powerful. You'll find yourself completely absorbed into the narrative. I could not put it down until the very last page was finished!


  1. I cannot read this sort of book no matter how good. The better the writer the worse it is for me. Rather than get calloused in my old age I have gotten hyper-sensitive so I feel real pain from suggestions. Bad for me but it may save the world from another serial killer. Actually I'm more of a cereal killer. I have to be careful otherwise I have terrible dreams.

  2. Oldfool,

    I'm sorry to hear that! But, I think that a sensitive soul is something to be admired, not condemned. I'll hopefully have some less-dark books in future posts. ;)

    ("cereal killer" haha, love it!)


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