My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I don’t even know what to say about Andrew Smith’s “The Marbury Lens”. Because this is one of those novels where I’m sitting right on the fence and I’m not apt to fall on either side – like or dislike. I had my share of problems with this novel, but I was also impressed with it in others. I’m so conflicted that I wondered how exactly to pen this review because it was just a weird, mind-trippy novel. I think its overall aim was to play upon a lot of fears at the level of the psyche – what with multiple references to sex and nudity and violence and all these elements that someone far more apt than me in psychology would be able to delve into. The loopy way it was written alongside some of the frank graphic subjects was meant to compliment that, but the repetitive elements of the work and lack of cohesion in the thematic really took away from what this novel could’ve been.
Let me preface this review with a few things you need to be aware of as far as my background and perception of this novel is concerned. I love very dark themed novels. I like gritty stories with rich dark humor and those that tend to push the envelope when it comes to genre considerations (I don’t think this particular novel really reached any of that, but it had it’s fair share of graphic portrayals). So I’m not that phased by many things thrown at me, as long as it’s plausible in the context of the story.
“Marbury Lens” does have some tough considerations for it being a YA novel, as well as taking on some subject matters in ways that didn’t necessarily sit well with me. If you are offended by the multiple casual uses of the word “gay” and where it very well could be noted as negative imaging, this may not be the book for you. If you are easily offended by portrayals of near rape and trauma associated with that (and arguably not dealt with in what some would do following that situation), this may not be the book for you. If you are offended by sexually graphic portrayals (such as a cut off penis, among other frank mutilations), this also may not be the book for you.
As far as the level of gore and scare factor in this – personally, I thought playing through a few rounds of the Clocktower games were scarier than this (…that probably says something about my gaming habits).
I had to take many things with a grain of salt in reading this novel. It really wasn’t the easiest to go through, despite a fascinating premise and despite being very well written for quite a good spell in the novel (the novel really dropped the ball when it started switching POV characters, and it became quite boring towards the end). I really liked the intimacy of details and horror elements through the work, and it was interesting to see that Jack’s narrative sometimes switched between first person and third person to show his respective disassociations. Despite a stellar narration in the audiobook by Mark Boyett, this novel…just didn’t reach what it could’ve potentially been, though I saw what it was going for.
The story revolves around a 16-year old boy named Jack who has the misfortune of being completely drunk, picked up by a stranger, kidnapped, tortured and nearly raped by said stranger, and barely escapes in one piece to arrive back at his friend’s house. Granted I was a bit icked out in the whole torture/near rape scene, but not scared. I actually felt sorry for Jack for a time because he’s at war with his mind and fears, and there are some palpable PTSD moments given what he goes through in the beginning of the novel. But much of that I think I lost with the repetition of elements in this novel. If I had to hear about the character having something done to his brain, or “Fuck you, Jack” or the “roll, tap, tap, tap” phrasing one more time, my brain would’ve blown…something. It was too much – I wouldn’t have minded some repetition for impact (because honestly that’s a brilliant way to show internal contrast), but it was WAY too much.
While I thought the Otherworld that Smith painted through the Lenses was interesting, it never really found a place to connect with me because it was so jagged and lacked directive. I didn’t really connect to that many of the characters, even. Jack and Connor, yeah, I connected to (even if I didn’t like the things they said and did in parts of the novel), but the rest were difficult. The female characters in this work were very much throwaway – I was very disappointed with their respective portrayal here.
To touch base a bit on another problem of this novel that really bothered me – it’s the portrayal of sex and sexuality here. It doesn’t come across well at all, if that were a dimension of the novel that Smith hoped to put across with some distinct measure in the psychological components of this work. I actually didn’t have any problems with the mention/display of nudity or some variant state of undress for the characters in this novel. Nah, I can take that fine in a narrative, some authors use that as a way of showing some measure of intimacy (note I’m not talking about sexual intimacy) with respect to a character and some thought process they may have – its a way of showing vulnerability. Ultimately Jack was a very vulnerable character and it was meant to show him “stripped down” (no pun intended) to where he’s subjected to these primal states of fear and thought, but it never truly resonates the way it should.
This could’ve been a novel where it had something meaningful to say about this 16-year-old boy with a very palpable struggle with his thoughts on sex and sexuality and some intrinsic fears/insecurities with that. That he could find a true coming to terms. But no, much of the measure of sex and sexuality here was quite isolating, even negative in points. I would even say that many elements here were simply for show (the sex scenes – there are quite a few, and the violence) and never came to a full circle of terms for Jack to grow from in a healthy way, to have him more rounded as a character after the torment he’s put through.
I’m not sure if I’m invested enough to check into the sequel to this, but I may based on pure curiosity as to where the author takes it. I did like the writing in spurts, and I did see elements here that had potential, but it didn’t build upon that potential to where it could’ve amounted to a more meaningful impact and whole read.