I’m a big fan of Emerald Fennell’s debut novel, Shiverton Hall, and when I found out she was not only doing a YA novel, but that it was also coming from my favourite publishers Hot Key Books, I was over the moon. When I found out it was a bleak, cold and brutal story of murder and mystery, I was even more on board with the whole thing.
The story is told from the perspective of an unnamed narrator, a 12 year old orphaned girl with a love of all things macabre and upsetting. Her parents were killed in a speedboat accident, and she spends her time living with her grandmother, except during the Summer holidays, which she spends in her Aunt and Uncle’s hotel in the sleepy seaside town of Fowley. It’s a boring boring place where nothing ever happens, and our narrator normally can’t wait to get back to school – until they pull a body out of the sea, and she’s there to see the whole thing. It’s like a dream come true for her. While everyone thinks it’s a tragic accident, the girl is determined it must be murder, and she’s not alone. There’s a boy staying in the hotel, a 13 year old with a hugely overbearing mother, called Miles. He’s even more obsessed with murder than she is, and the two of them form a strange, co-dependent relationship that hinges on their shared goal of proving that the body that washed up on the beach was the victim of a sinister murderer. It becomes a lot easier when the second body washes up.
Monsters is a sinister, dark novel with the shiny veneer of forced sunshine and happiness over it that creates a sticky, humid atmosphere filled with subtlety sliding mysteries and awful, shiveringly cold characters. The use of an unnamed narrator of the story is a great way to create a sense of unease and it allows the reader to slowly slip themselves into her chilling mind set. She’s a direct, complex character and her view on the world is pretty bitter and blunt, but somehow Fennell manages to make her charming in a strange sort of way. Miles is by far the darker, more sociopathic character, and his penchant for cold, indifferent cruelty and obsession with control over others is painful to read, and the narrator’s steadily increasing frantic obsession with him is like a slow, unstoppable slide into insanity. Emerald has really nailed a sociopathic voice in Monsters, and she’s also managed to really underpin an unhealthy relationship fuelled by desperation and control – there’s a Brady/Hindley vibe that runs throughout their friendship.
Monsters is well plotted, twisting and tense, but I particularly liked that every now and then it would break the prose style and having the narrator rant in an unhinged style. It pulses with uncertainty, and we as readers are never sure what actually happened and what is a product of her highly active, deeply macabre imagination, especially when it comes to how Miles feels about her. The story also manages to touch on some sweeter points about growing up, and the power of friendships, as it meanders through the much darker plot, and I feel like Emerald has managed to create a very unique, outstanding and horrifically dark coming of age story. About sociopaths. It’s pretty gripping and awesome.
Thanks, as always, for reading,