Book Review: Someone Like Me by M.R. Carey
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Orbit (November 6, 2018)
Length: 512 pages
M.R. Carey, whose name has been at the forefront of the horror fiction scene in recent years, is proving he’s still in the zone with his newest novel Someone Like Me, a spooky psychological thriller with supernatural undertones. It’s arguably more lowkey than his last few books, but no less disturbing as the author diverts his attention towards exploring the idea and terror of losing one’s mind.
The story opens on a distressing scene of domestic violence. Liz Kendall, a meek and gentle divorcee and single mom who has finally left her husband Marc after years of physical abuse, is trying once again to stand up to him after he brings the kids home late from a scheduled custody visit. The situation quickly escalates, culminating with Marc’s brutal hands wrapped tight around her neck. And that’s when it happens. Liz finds herself fighting back, but the sensation of it is all wrong. Her actions don’t feel like her own; it’s like some outside force has taken over her body, guiding her fingers to the bottle which she uses to smash against Marc’s face. The fight is ended, and Liz is safe again once the cops arrive to file a report. But still, she can’t shake the chilling memory of that paralyzing moment, when she first lost control of herself.
Meanwhile, not too far away, 16-year-old Fran Watts is fighting hard to get a handle on her own psychological traumas. A victim of a high-profile abduction case when she was six, she has been suffering hallucinations ever since. Some of them aren’t so bad, like Lady Jinx, the sword-wielding magical fox who has served as Fran’s constant companion and best friend for years. Other times though, the symptoms can become downright frightening, like when Fran thinks she can see different versions of people or events around her, always changing and clashing. One day, she is surprised when she encounters her classmate Zac Kendall in the waiting room of her psychiatrist’s office, and what’s even more shocking, her visions show her something very wrong his mother, Liz.
While contemplating how to review Someone Like Me, I flashed back to the difficult time I had writing about The Girl with All the Gifts, which was another tough book to rave about without revealing spoilers. This seems to be the norm with M.R. Carey novels. His stories are often mysterious and complex, with many layers in which to hide all kinds of secrets and surprises. As a reader, much of the joy lies in teasing out all these for yourself. It can be a bit disorienting at first, and maybe even a bit exasperating, to venture into this novel watching the early focus of the story flit all around and back and forth, wondering where all this setup will lead to. It’s clear after a while though, that everything is there for a reason. To truly experience the full impact of the later plot twists and revelations, you must first feel for the characters profoundly and completely, and this is what the first act sets out to do.
At first, no one—least of all the reader—knows what’s going on. We have middle-aged and overworked Liz, who initially appears to be making a mountain out of a molehill. So she felt removed from herself in the heat of the moment while attacking her ex-husband, but surely, a sudden and violent reaction in a life-threatening situation like that can be explained by a kind of fight-or-flight instinct? Gradually though, the realization dawns that Liz’s concerns may have more weight than originally thought. In the face of her changing behavior, I was torn between rooting for this new assertive Liz and feeling uncomfortably cognizant that this was probably Carey’s way of setting up for the other shoe to drop. Experience with his novels have taught me always stay on alert. Speaking of which, in another corner we have Fran, who is an even bigger enigma. Early on, her only connection to Liz is Zach, though this relationship eventually paves the way to a sequence of events that will change their lives forever. Fran’s hallucinatory companion Jinx, whose cutesy presence at first feels entirely out of place in this adult thriller redolent in dark themes, also ends up being the key to a knock-you-for-a-loop moment later the novel, bringing us back to the main lesson: never let your guard down when it comes to an M.R. Carey novel.
Someone Like Me is clever, extremely rich in its telling, and quite possibly the most emotionally engaging book I’ve read by the author so far. In fact, I think the raw, almost painful portrayal of the characters and their situations may have had a slightly adverse effect on its readability. This is quite different from the books in his The Girl with All the Gifts world, Fellside, or even his earlier novels and works in comics, but while it’s not the easiest read, I think it demonstrates a leveling up of Carey’s talent, and I doubt it’s even in its final form.
Ultimately, it’s great that he’s continuing to experiment and the push the limits of horror, changing the way we think about familiar ideas in the genre, whether they be zombies, hauntings, or malevolent preternatural possessions. Someone Like Me is a book that showcases his particular brand of genius, and it’s one I would recommend for readers who appreciate an unflinchingly honest portrayal of emotions and hard topics along with the chills in their horror reads.