My review of Carla by Mark Barry
My rating 4.5 out 0f 5 stars
I found this a difficult read. Not because the writing was poor, to the contrary; it is excellent in many ways, but because I found the story both compulsive yet disturbing.
Usually, when reading a book to review I read it twice, once just to take in the story and again to discover what works for me. I try to avoid spoilers, saying only if the different components of the story, the characters, the dialogue, the setting etc., work as far as I’m concerned, and why.
But Carla is problematic for me. Mark Barry really gets into the mind of John Dexter, a middle-aged man who struggles with the knowledge of who and what he is; a man with a severe personality disorder who has lived most of his life either in mental health care or in prison. Yet who has, in a way, been cushioned from the realities of the outside world by the wealth of his father. The challenge when reading the book is that it is a monologue and everything, therefore, is seen and related through the eyes of the protagonist, who is, to say the least, an unreliable narrator. There is no room for the reader to try, or even want, to envisage the setting, the action, in any other way than how he tells us.
The tone of the dialogue is conversational, even casual as John relates the stories of his past actions, and of events he was involved in, directly to the reader, many of which are chilling and disconcerting. And this sinister foundation of his life, and his self-knowledge, is reinforced, I think, by the short terse sentences that break up the longer narrative, especially with the juxtaposition of the internal dialogue where we learn of the chaos of his emotions and thought processes; his history of recurring thoughts of suicide. There are two sentences that particularly stood out for me. “ Borderlines like me? Way too much emotion.”. Says it all!
But the strange thing is that, as the reader, I emphasised with this character even whilst being repelled by him.
The title of the book, Carla, is taken from the character with whom the protagonist is obsessed and it is this fixation on Carla, a young, pretty woman, that is the pivot around which the plot and the decline of John Dexter revolves. Yet it is with her, within this situation, that the protagonist discovers that he can relate to someone else; can empathise,can truly care. Perhaps this could have been his redemption. Perhaps …
The foreshadowing of the inevitable result is drip fed throughout the story. The denouement however, was a shock.
And it is at this point that I’ll leave it. Suffice it to say, I think Mark Barry is a good author and I would like to recommend this book.