Consent by Leo Benedictus
‘I’m having to write this in snatched moments here and there, which is not convenient. Things generally are difficult right now for reasons that I’ll come to. But the spells between are a chance to think freshly. And I don’t know. I look back and I don’t know when all this started. The thing with Laura, Kathy’s death, the thing now, me writing, me growing up, when you put them in a line they make a kind of sense. More sense than at the time.’
‘This book is an experiment. We’re experimenting together. You are part of the experiment, if you’ll agree to it. Normally I don’t let my subjects choose to be subjects. If you know you’re being watched, you cease to be you. But I want you to read this. I wrote it for you.’
Everything about this book is designed to draw you in, from the vague blurb to the simple all-white cover and the stark black words on the back of the dust jacket insisting ‘Read Me’. Often books that employ such tactics are trying to make up for a lack of substance. But this intriguing, well-written book has no such problem.
This book is difficult to talk about without giving too much away, and it’s also one of those books that is better if you don’t know too many details before reading it. Suffice to say that it is strongly reminiscent of American Psycho, and that those with weak stomachs might be better off reading something else.
But if you can get through those moments of gore (and there are only two of them in the whole book), you’ll discover a clever, unsettling thriller that invites you into the mind of a psychopath, while making you complicit in everything that happens from the first page. Just as the unnamed narrator develops a dangerous obsession with his various subjects, so the reader becomes obsessed with what he is going to do next. And by following his subjects in their private lives, the reader begins to feel like a voyeur.
Benedictus used to be a journalist for the Guardian so there’s no doubt he knows how to write. His sparse, clean style allows enough room for interpretation while creating a powerful sense of dread that mercilessly grips the reader in its claws.
But there is comedy here – black as it may be – so the experience of reading Consent isn’t entirely an uncomfortable one. The narrator remains deadpan in the face of his troubling escalating behaviour, and it is from this that most of the humour comes.
The ending is very blunt, but that’s usually what you expect from this kind of literary thriller. There are no answers offered and no clear-cut resolution, which some readers will probably find dissatisfying.
However, for those who enjoy clever and unsettling thrillers, this one is unmissable.
Many thanks to Faber & Faber for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.