I realised too late that The Devil and the Dark Water was written by the same person who wrote The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle. By that point I had spent £7 on it in the Kindle Store, having been told by the Daily Mail that if I read any book this year I ought to “make it this one”.
I had given up on Seven Deaths about 25% of the way in, utterly mystified by and moreover not interested in what was going on. My friend Simon Conway, who had read it all the way to the end, told me what happened after I gave up and I was so, so glad on hearing the denouement that I hadn’t bothered persevering with it. I was astonished that it had been so successful – to me it read like slightly clumsy Downton Abbey fanfiction. But then I am always astonished at the success of certain books: Where the Crawdads Sing, A Little Life, any Lee Child book, the Secret Barrister. I won’t slag them off – what do I know? They’ve all sold millions – I’m just baffled by what people like about them so much.
Are the people who like these books the same ones who liked the pop fiction that I liked? I’m no snob, I’ve read loads of Dan Brown and Jilly Cooper and that Eleanor’s perfectly fine one and Memoirs of a Geisha and Confessions of a Shopaholic. Do people who liked those also like the ones above? Do they discern no difference? Sometimes I wonder if there exist people who are just desperate to read a book and don’t care much what it says.
The urgent tone of the book review in the Mail made me keep going with The Devil and the Dark Water. This is the one book I’ve got to read!! Plus I feel like even though I don’t like mysteries, my life would be easier if I did. If I was less fussy I could always have a book on the go: like my dad. He always has some rubbishy pulp fiction tented somewhere to dive back into in spare moments when he’s not translating Goethe or doing maths. So I struggled on with Devil, which is an absolutely bizarre book.
Basically the premise is that it’s 1634 and there are these two characters on board a big ship sailing from Indonesia to Europe – Sammy Pipps and Arent Hayes. They have a hinterland as a kind of Sherlock Holmes and Watson duo and, as such, the book reads as if this were one of a series of their adventures, rather than a standalone novel. Aboard this ship there is a demon spirit with a grudge and it starts bumping people off and leaving weird devilish signs everywhere and our detective duo have to work out what’s going on.
It reminded me of that other infuriating book The Magus, where the author dumps you in a mire of confusion and you poke about in the book going “God what is this guff?” until the last 4 chapters when someone says “Do you remember that loud bang in Chapter 5? Well that was the secret trapdoor suddenly shutting!” or there is a reveal like someone has spent the last 20 years building up an immunity to a rare poison in order to poison someone and you go… do you know what? You’re just making this up.
But, again, what the hell do I know about anything? This will sell a million copies too.
I was very much hoping that Ghosts by Dolly Alderton would be terrible as she’s just too successful and I can’t really cope with it all. Not long ago she was nothing more than a spirited 20-something emailing me asking for advice and now she’s this terrifying mega brand, while I can’t even get my children to flush the loo or not use belching as a form of greeting.
I had also thought I would be able to dismiss Ghosts because it’s about dating, and I’m not interested in dating or descriptions of exciting men or lingering glances or amazing first dates or any of it. Don’t care! But, alas, alack, this book is good. Dolly’s terrific at making you care about things outside your niche clutch of immediate interests and she smartly dodges a lot of boring convention and cliché that you find in these sorts of books, while keeping you on reasonably familiar territory.
I liked the lead character’s crazy mum and the mad friend; her skewering of boring marrieds is excellent. She also has the same obsession as I do over those girls who somehow have a whip hand over their boyfriends and are able to get them to do things like “Montheversary” dinners and giant breakfasts-in-bed on Valentine’s Day. Before I was married I only ever made myself as small and convenient and undemanding in relationships as possible and I still always got chucked over or, yes, ghosted – probably ultimately for girls who said things like “What time do you call this?”
After 9 years of marriage I told Giles that if he didn’t occasionally bring me tea in bed once in a while I was going to leave and that seemed to shift something slightly. Is that what these girls do? Are they terrifying narcissists who crush men into doing their bidding? Did their mothers teach them how to do it? How? HOW??
What’s depressing to realise on reading Ghosts is that in the 13 years I’ve been off the dating scene, nothing seems to have changed except the invidious addition of the internet. The men are all still fucking freaks, the women are all still just looking for “someone nice to go to the cinema with”. The horrendous power balance of money/age/looks still operates and I’m extremely pleased to be shot of the whole nightmarish thing.
I’m sure Ghosts will sell a million copies. Dear God, just please let it outsell The Devil and the Dark Water.