A new week, new bookish adventures!
It took me time, but I can finally share my thoughts about what I believe to be one of the best books of the year. I’ve already read 23 novels so I know what I’m talking about! More seriously, I swear that I need to see Consent on all TBRs. Here’s why…
Many thanks to Sophie at Faber & Faber for offering me the chance to discover Leo Benedictus and Consent. This review is my unbiased opinion.
Author: Leo Benedictus
Publisher: Faber & Faber
Date of hardback publication: 7th February 2019
Number of pages: 240
Frances is bright, young and single, enjoying life and her burgeoning career in the big city.
But after attracting the attention of a stranger, her life begins to unravel from the inside out.
A seductive novel of power and complicity. Consent shows us just how vulnerable we are to the will of others – people we may not even know…
An ingeniously nasty exercise reminiscent of Vladimir Nabokov and Patricia Highsmith – John Dugdale, Sunday Times
Consent is a mysterious book in many ways.
First of all, a white cover with a single key at its center. A single word as a title. A vague mention of Nabokov on a quote.
I just gave you the main reason why I thought I would never read Leo Benedictus’s novel. Vladimir Nabokov. Praised for his famous Lolita, Nabokov is a name many of us know – either because we were forced to read and work on it (my case) or maybe no one compelled you to and you just enjoy classics. I have big issues with Lolita, and no amount of explanation or compliment on the work itself, not the story, can make me change my mind. Yet, I am happy the author gets to be mentioned next to a name many see as a master in the arts of words. Because Consent is superb, both in plotting and writing. Consent is a carefully-cut jewel in a velvet box.
In order to forget life, they get on with living.
But let’s rewind for a bit. Why did I choose to read it despite the N name? Because I felt drawn to Consent right from the moment my eyes looked at the cover. I saw through it. I felt the urge to open the book and discover more white pages, this time filled with ink, words, lives surely.
Like a five-year-old annoying kid… but why again?
Look at the blurb. Read it carefully. Tell me you are not intrigued.
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.
From the comments I received when I mentioned Consent in my latest This Week In Books post, many of you wanted to know more. So, I will tell you more. How much more? I don’t know. I am still reeling from the experiment. I also truly believe this is one of those books you can’t talk about if you haven’t been through it yourself.
Before even entering the world of Consent, the reader is told what to expect. We are a subject, a passive and subjective object in an experiment we have no control over. Decisions, truths, facts, everything is decided by the person behind it. Right away, I felt a thrill run through my body. An experiment that won’t transform me into a frog? Someone watching me, taking me into consideration while writing their report? What kind of experiment? What kind of watching are we talking about? I was a well of questions, a runner at the start line of a race. I was in before I began reading. The experiment started when I received this email from Faber & Faber to read this book. Don’t you think it is clever? I do. I admire the author for pulling me into this experiment so quickly, so shamelessly, so effortlessly.
I’d not imagined this book as a kind of treatise but it seems to have become one, and there’s an honesty in letting it become what it wants.
What is Consent about, then? Well, just like Nabokov tried (and failed for my part) to make me fill the shoes of someone very special, Leo Benedictus throws us into the world of a man. A shadow behind you, a face behind the window, a silhouette at the corner of your eye. This man comes and goes, taking notes, learning about women he follows. Creepy? Entirely. Fascinating? Absolutely. No, I am not going to start defending stalkers, but instead of bringing yet another plot told through a lovely woman’s point of view about how her life is ruined by some weird man, you get the insides of the stalking. Or the experiment. You enter the world of the watcher, not the watched. Do I sound mad if I say that our narrator’s chapters make sense? That I could understand him, that I wanted, no, needed, to know more, that I was curious about how he’d learned from all his subjects? From a long-distance obsession to a lethal nightmare, the author takes us from busy streets to memories, from long nights to life observations. I strongly admire Leo Benedictus’s style. It triggered many sides of me; the protective sister I will never be, the partner-in-crime I actively became as I kept on reading, unable to stop myself from drinking the words coming my way like a salty ocean that can only lead one way, the outraged and violated woman, the scared subject…
Words are powerful, but in such capable hands, they become something more. Disturbing, dark, ominous. And this is where I let the Nabokov comment go. Story aside, the amount of work, passion, and ability behind this novel is outstanding. Each word has a meaning. Each sentence flows into the next. I applaud Mr Benedictus. I thank him for Consent, which is a literary gift to the psychological thriller genre. I could quote the entire book, each phrase would make you feel something, from the slightest shrug to the uncontrollable shiver. Thought-provoking and terribly astonishing, this novel has raised my expectations for all books to come.
As the events unfold, uneasiness wraps its fingers around us, and Frances, our narrator’s latest subject, can only fall into the trap set by a mastermind with the experience of a seasoned surgeon. She, a successful professional enjoying life in the city, becomes a darker, weaker version of herself, pushed to the edge by an invisible hand. Frances, a woman every one of us can relate to, adds this dose of reality that makes this book spine-chilling. Yes, it could be you. It could be me. Who can say they are safe from a threat they can’t see?
As the book turned me into a voluntary witness, I helplessly held a hand to her while my loyalty remained with the man behind it all. Because Consent is a two-way story. It gives as much as it takes. You get to escape the game but have to watch it. As a viewer, you talk to the one responsible for the hardship Frances go through, you hear his reasoning, from frightfully down-to-earth to worryingly violent in its power and the drive behind it. But I relished it. I drown into a superb account of thoughts and actions that brought me to one of the most exciting, dreadful and intense ending I have ever read.
If you think you know all about psychological thrillers, think twice. Meet Consent.
Do yourself a favour, buy it! Amazon
Leo Benedictus is a freelance feature writer for the Guardian, and other publications. His first novel, The Afterparty, was published in 2011 by Jonathan Cape.