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BOOK REVIEW: Consent by Leo Benedictus

| 20 August 2018 | Reply

BOOK REVIEW: Consent by Leo Benedictus

Faber & Faber
February 2018
Paperback, $29.99
Reviewed by Steph O’Connell

Crime / Thriller


Note: This cover does NOT have a black border… but it disappeared in the white background of the page.


This book is an experiment.
We’re experimenting together.
You are part of the experiment, if you’ll agree to it.

Normally I don’t let my subjects choose to be subjects. If you know you’re being watched, you cease to be you.

But I want you to read this. I wrote it for you.

This magnetic book pulls you in its wake even as you resist its force. Sometimes you don’t want to know what’s next…


While not breaking any new ground as a book from the point of view of a stalker, this is an interesting concept.

Benedictus works to put the reader in different shoes throughout the story, sometimes as the stalker and sometimes as the victim, developing a complex picture, and also begging the question of what might be going on that we don’t know about, which we dismiss quickly for a number of reasons. Might someone be watching us? Following us? Setting up surveillance in our house? What might it take to step into the role our main character has?

I’m sorry. I’m not explaining myself well. Have I been someone all of my life who would do what I have done? Or am I just somebody who did? I suppose that’s what I’m asking. Because I’ve thought a lot about how I’ll look when your eyes leave these pages for the final time, perhaps before the final page. I wonder if you’ll see a monster, and if I am one, or if monstrosity is just a costume to be tried on.

The story is a little bit meta – it is made clear to us through the telling that this is a book that is being written – and through internal monologue the main character philosophizes about life and love and human connection, about stalking and society and what we owe to each other.

I’d expect people to disapprove, perhaps you disapprove, but I’ve never really thought this project was immoral. I work with the presumption that the women I study would be upset if they found out, but if they don’t find out, well, where’s the harm? The law requires a negative reaction in the victim to be proven. Thus it does not protect Frances from being stalked, it protects her ignorance of it, just as it protects other states of ignorance, like childhood or religious faith. My moral duty, if I have one, is to get away with what I’m doing.

I can understand in essence what the author was trying to do, but disagree with so many elements of the writing. It’s true, these things could be argued for as a quirk of the narrator, but they make it such a pain for the reader to push through. At some point, you have to decide whether you want to be so willy-nilly with style and lose the readers who care about grammar and tense, or you tidy it up a little.

Among these annoyances:
– There were no quotation marks
– The tense was somewhat jumbled (including past, present, and future tense)
– The POVs were somewhat jumbled (including first, third, and second person… And the third person scenes were shown to be told by the same person who was narrating the 1st person, though the 1st person seems to be privy to info about the third person that he couldn’t know.)
– So much of the book was dull and not engaging
– A couple of extremely gory scenes were at odds with the slow meander of the rest of the book

Certain thoughts presented in the inner monologue were definitely uncomfortably easy to relate to (in a book from the point of view of a stalker), but there was really nothing here that couldn’t be found elsewhere.

It’s a little Dexter, a little Creep (the movie), and something else besides that doesn’t spring to mind. But it doesn’t engage the audience well enough, or show us things we wouldn’t have discovered in either of those or the sudden range of stalker fiction out there. The story itself was dull and meandering, with brief moments of action and intrigue, but it feels like the whole book was only written in order for the author to get to the final chapter. 

Though the gory scenes were well done, they were too scarce to make up for the rest of the book.

You’ve severed the skin all the way round now, so you try wrenching upwards, hoping to tear the fibres you can’t cut. You can’t use the mallet and chisel because you need a hand as well as your knees to make the arm lie still. All you have left is the saws. If this is getting done, it’s getting done with savagery. The spurts are rhythmic. The blood goes spurt-spurt-spurt, which means you’ve got an artery, which you expected, but you hadn’t expected it to be like this. Perhaps you were too gentle with the tourniquet. At any rate you’re glad you have the mask.

And in the end, my feelings on the book can be best summed up by this quote from the book itself.

There may well have been some good material there, but I wouldn’t know because I spent most of the time in a stupor, too bored to hear it. I’d formulate the next day’s plans, or think about past subjects, and the tape would run on and on. Then I’d notice, reprove myself, rewind, and start losing interest again.


Category: Book Reviews, Other Reviews

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