“The truth is I hurt people. It’s what I do. It’s all I do. It’s all I’ve ever done.”
He lives in your community, in a nice house with a well-tended garden. He shops in your grocery store, bumping shoulders with you and apologizing with a smile. He drives beside you on the highway, politely waving you into the lane ahead of him.
What you don’t know is that he has an elaborate cage built into a secret basement under his garage. And the food that he’s carefully shopping for is to feed a young woman he’s holding there against her will—one in a string of many, unaware of the fate that awaits her.
This is how it’s been for a long time. It’s normal…and it works. Perfectly.
Then he meets the checkout girl from the 24-hour grocery. And now the plan, the hunts, the room…the others. He doesn’t need any of them anymore. He needs only her. But just as he decides to go straight, the police start to close in. He might be able to cover his tracks, except for one small problem—he still has someone trapped in his garage.
Discovering his humanity couldn’t have come at a worse time.
I give you this year’s second Bomy Award of Ecellence: Normal by Graeme Cameron. Holy hell, alright? Just freaking holy hell!! There is genius at play, and I’m not afraid to come right out and say it. Freaking genius! Disturbing, shocking, delicious genius! *takes deep breath*
The contemporary world of Normal is built in such a note that it very well could be where you live. While it has some English hints (“knickers”, for instance :D), it very well could be set anywhere, everywhere. There wasn’t much location-building, so to speak, as much as atmosphere-building and the universal quality was awesome as far as I’m concerned.
The universal note didn’t end there, though. We have a main character who could be anybody and everybody as well. We don’t even have a name! And he’s a serial killer, did I happen to mention that? Okay, so I find the topic morbidly fascinating, psychologically succulent – I have been very upfront about my evil reader tendencies with you guys 😛 This main character catered to them like a champ!
This might be a very shocking novel. I mean, some of you guys love antiheroes, but actual villains turned into main characters might not be everyone’s cup of tea. It most decidedly is mine. This novel was conceived in Livia’s-reading-pleasures-haven, let’s put it that way. Not just because it gives such lovely insight into the serial killer’s psychology, but also because at the end of it all justice prevails. Though I love antiheroes and often villains, I’m a big fan of poetic justice 😀
We’re often tempted to see serial killers as monsters of sorts, something “other”, some different breed. I think it’s very unnerving to actually see one as a regular human being, having emotions, feeling remorse, falling for someone, caring for someone – so very much like any one of us, right? Herein lies the genius of Normal: despite the MC’s predilections, the novel in no way tries to be shocking. It’s the story of someone, anyone, having a life, doing their thing – it just so happens that this guy is a serial killer and does that thing too. He’s not apologetic about it, there’s no vigilante vein in which his serial killing is presented, there’s no “redeeming” that part of his character. But the man falls for someone (Rachel), at the very worst moment possible – when he has the really interesting Erica locked up in that cage the blurb tells you about. And his life unravels.
I was also very intrigued by Erica, a very charismatic and adorably snarky young woman in which, I think, our MC sees at least something of himself. There’s an affinity between them, something that goes beyond the Stockholm syndrome (of which there is plenty) – this affinity comes to light as investigators and Erica herself reveal more about her past (there was potential for “growth” there).
I particularly enjoyed following the relationship between our MC and Erica, because this time we were seeing it all through the serial killer’s eyes. There have been quite a lot of stories told from some “Erica”‘s POV, and reading one from the “monster”‘s POV was endlessly intriguing. There was such an ambiguity about their chemistry, their relationship, the type of bond that developed between them – especially the MC’s side of it. While Erica’s type of attachment was clearer, our MC’s was a lot more nuanced, murky, in places touching while still revolting.
Part of the genius of Normal is the fact that it makes you empathize with the MC. In fact, I think he’d be a really likable dude were it not for this serial killer part. He’s polite, has a great sense of humor, quite charming, thoughtful in places, romantic…and entirely psycho, of course. That goes without saying, lol, and in truth in Normal it goes without saying it entirely – because of course the killer doesn’t think he’s a psycho. He thinks Erica is a psycho :))
To make the characters story short, there’s a good cast of very interesting ones, and I enjoyed reading about them, seeing them through the MC’s eyes.
The story is brilliant in it’s simplicity. Intense, mind you, and so deliciously layered, yet breathtakingly simple: a guy falls for someone, and wanting to be/being together with this person affects his life. In our case, the guy just so happens to be a serial killer, the woman he falls for happens to be pretty fucked up herself though of course he wins the competition hands down. The part of his life that is mostly affected is his kidnapping & killing, and there’s this pretty nuts captive he has that he keeps not killing until she morphs into a pretty little monster. You want to read this novel so bad right now, don’t you? I know you do 😀
The first person, past tense narrative from the serial killer’s POV is brilliant. The prose flows beautifully. Our MC gives suggestive and efficient accounts and descriptions. His voice is clear, persuasive, and quite English in structure and feel – quite proper, great sense of humor, and unnervingly polite. I for one enjoyed that a lot, it makes you feel that MC’s charm yourself, his views and opinions coming through as disturbingly “normal” were it not for this tiny detail that he’s a serial killer on the prowl, or murdering, or getting rid of the body, and so on. There’s nothing gory or horrific about the world his voice paints and that will freak you the hell out in so many ways! Genius.
I love the presentation of the novel too, the cover is gorgeous, and the blurb is a good glimpse into what you’re getting and a hooking one for the right audience.
I’m not saying Normal is for everyone. I recommend it to lovers of twisted, fuckedup characters, to fans of psychological thrillers and of course to those loving serial killer stuff, but also to those interested in the Stockholm syndrome and its effects – just not a romanticized version of either of these things. While there are clear romantic elements – the MC falls for Rachel, Erica is Stockholming on the MC – I’m steering clear of labeling it a romance read. This baby does not romanticize anything, not even this guy falling for Rachel. And that, too, was genius.
Read this baby. Then go out there, and be normal… *mwahahaha* JK, jk!!
P.S.: Christy loved it too! See? Now you gotta read it! xD