Sunday, 30 June 2013

My Demon by Lisa Hinsley

Review by Bill Kirton

One of the convenient (albeit artificial) distinctions people make between writers (and to which writers themselves subscribe) is to group them into those whose plots are driven by their characters and those whose characters derive from the plot. Both are valid approaches and both produce good and bad stories and novels. One tiny problem with this sort of analysis is that, while it links the two – plot and character –  it also implies a separation between them, whereas in the hands of a skilful writer, they’re bound intimately together. And that’s certainly the case with My Demon.

The nuances and shifts of both plot and character are such that I hesitate to offer a summary of the action or use examples to illustrate my comments in case, despite my best efforts, they turn out to be spoilers of some aspect of the narrative threads. So, in the broadest terms, this is a story of mental disturbance, possession, lust, horror and at the same time compassion and sympathy for the perpetrator of horrific crimes of extreme violence – all in a very real context. Hinsley takes us quickly into the story via its central character and wastes nothing thereafter in moving us deeper into the narrative and its growing uneasiness. The pace of the story is well-judged, with its increasingly rare moments of rest stirred into fearful life by an escalation of the seriousness of the events in which she’s involved.

This central character, Alex, is disturbed, with intimations that things are not quite right – intimations that soon become realities (or maybe apparent realities). She’s carefully drawn and Hinsley lets us see how her mind and personality work even as she’s moving into her delusions. But, as I said at the outset, this revelation of character is also a plot development in itself. The surrounding characters are equally well-drawn, from her alcoholic mother, who earns a living via telephone sex, through her girl friends and boy friend Jeremy, to the sinister Clive. Their dialogue is good, the imagery, especially of horror, is eerily powerful and the whole fascinating experience has that enviable element of drawing you on towards what you sense will be a far from pleasant resolution. It’s a fantasy which is all too real, and it’s wrapped in little, everyday details and contexts that make the horror even more effective.

Paradoxically, it’s also funny in several unexpected places. An ultra sexy partner who’s driving Alex crazy with lust as dancers whirl around them is transformed into a repulsive wimp in a couple of lines of exquisite simplicity; the one-sided ‘conversations’ she hears as her mother pleasures one of her clients are superbly incongruous; and Hinsley even manages to raise a chilling smile as the perpetrator of one of the horrific crimes takes care not to let the victim ‘become too flat’.



So yes, it’s chilling but its themes of mental disintegration and the close association of death and violence with lust set it in a long tradition of Romantic or maybe Gothic literature of the sort analyzed by Mario Praz in his seminal work The Romantic Agony. OK, I’m not suggesting Hinsley should be set alongside the Marquis de Sade or the Romantic dabblers in algolagnia, but she’s written a highly readable book which manages to be both disturbing and entertaining.