Another week, another review – and another chance to reflect on just how diverse a place the indie jungle can be. Last week I reviewed Peter Labrow’s The Well, a page-turner that would make such a good addition to the lists of any traditional publisher that I find it quite strange that it isn’t included in any such lists. This week’s book is something utterly, utterly different.
100 Unfortunate Days might never have been traditionally published – not because it isn’t any good (it’s very good indeed), but because, far from being horror in the usual sense of the word, it isn’t even a novel in the usual sense of the word. The story? There isn’t really a story as such; and while it is possible to discern some kind of narrative and character development here, you have to dig around a bit to find them. And that isn’t necessarily easy, as 100 Unfortunate Days takes the concept of the unreliable narrator to a whole new level.
‘This book might not be for you,’ the blurb warns us; and while the same might reasonably be said of just about any book, in the case of 100 Unfortunate Days it seems particularly apposite. The 100 days of the title refer to ‘the diary of a madwoman’, an insight into an unbalanced mind via a series of vignettes and a collection of ‘days’. These are not necessarily sequential days, just excerpts from a life – a life that is probably as outwardly banal and monotonous as anyone’s, but which is, on the inside, claustrophobic, conflicted, and frequently terrifying.
While this may be termed ‘horror’ for the sake of convenience (and to satisfy booksellers, who like to slap a convenient label on things) it is not the horror of ghosts, ghouls, monsters or murders, despite the fact that it begins with a story of demonic possession. 100 Unfortunate Days is, rather, an examination of a much more widespread, and much more frightening, horror: the horror of squandered life, of soured love and isolation. The narrator is trapped in a life she loathes: ‘There are days when I can find nothing good in the world and I hate everyone’, she says. She is emotionally estranged from her family, apparently friendless, and devoid of any sense of purpose. She talks about the common disasters and disappointments that afflict many of us: getting married in haste and repenting at leisure, being disappointed by one’s family and one’s own ability to connect with them, and getting trapped in a stifling lifestyle. ‘There will be a day when you realize you wasted your life,’ the narrator warns us; and we, reading it, believe her. And there are other, still more prosaic, pains: getting older, going grey, putting on weight. Reading about them, you may begin to think that you and the narrator have much in common.
But then, and often quite unexpectedly, you get a passage like this: ‘The devil is there at 3:00AM.’ Or this: ‘You wake up again and again and you wonder if the jail time for murder would be worth it.’
At this point the reader might begin to relax a bit. This is a madwoman, after all – or, if she’s not quite mad, she is at the very least suffering from some definite psychological disorder. The woman is disturbed, and therefore nothing like us. After all, we don’t worry about demonic possession, do we? We don’t consider killing our own children because they’re annoying, do we?
But then, on Day 29, you get this:
Here are some things I would do if I could go back to being 20 years old right now: join an art commune, write a book, kiss more men, kiss more women.
I suspect that most of us have had similar thoughts at some point in our lives. There are many such passages in the book, which begs the question: is the writer really mad, or is she as sane as anyone else? Is she psychologically disturbed, or is she just less squeamish than us when it comes to looking the unlovely truth in the eye? This is why 100 Unfortunate Days is disturbing: the madwoman whose diary you’re reading might not be so very different to you. She writes about normality, about the things that everyone does and thinks. But here normality is shot through with reflections about demons and infanticide and the Apocalypse, and with the simple horror of life itself, with its disappointments and dead ends and wasted opportunities. 100 Unfortunate Days is frequently an uncomfortable read, and it may indeed not be for everyone. But then again, it might be for you – and if so, you won’t regret reading it. Recommended.
Reviewed by Mari Biella
A member of the Reading Between The Lines collective
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