Book Reviews

Book Review: Psychoville By Christopher Fowler

Book Review: Psychoville By Christopher FowlerPsychoville is a little over 400 pages long and the book is split into two parts. Part one of the book is set in 1985. Part two continues the story ten years later. I will say right up front that I like this book a lot, but it is still a little hard for me to write a review of Psychoville. The problem is that I don’t want to write a review that is nearly as long as a chapter of the book, but there is so much that I would like to say. The story stirred up a lot of emotions in me: anger, outrage, dread, surprise, and even a little mirth; to name but a few of them. And all the time that I was reading the book I was thinking to myself that—yes—this kind of thing could really happen and—my God!—people really can behave like the characters in the story.

The book’s prologue begins with the sentence ‘This is how you make an incendiary bomb.’ Those eight words attract instant attention and the reader does not know who is telling them this until much later in the book. By then ten years have passed and a lot of dirty water has flowed under the bridge, but those eight words provide a good idea of what is to come. As does the chemical-soaked body that the unknown narrator is busy forcing down the drain.

Part One

Part one of Psychoville introduces the March family. There are only three of them—young Billy and his mum and dad—and the Marches have a problem. They are being forced out of their home by the local council who, in their wisdom, have decided to built a new road through the March’s living room. The council have got a compulsory purchase order and a take it or leave it offer for the family: they must either move into the property that the council has found for them or they will be homeless. Faced with no other option, the Marches move into the new house and that is when their problems really begin. The Marches are a working class family who have spent all their lives in the middle of London. Their new home is in the suburbs and everything is very different there. Especially the people. The residents of the newly-built houses of Invicta Cross are middle class and they look down on the Marches from day one. They are not a particularly friendly bunch either—even among themselves—and none of them want anything to do with the new family on the block.

I mentioned earlier about feeling angry while reading Psychoville. Most of that anger was due to how the family was treated—they went through hell. Billy was the only one who made any friends, and the friends he made were fellow outcasts: Oliver Price the undertaker’s son and April Barrow, ‘the witch’s daughter.’ All three of the outcast children, were extremely bright though, and it was April who first pointed out to Billy the reason behind the victimization of his family.

In time, though, after a particularly nasty incident, April leaves the area and Billy and Oliver’s friendship seems to have failed. Billy believes that Oliver’s father has stopped his son from seeing him.

From day one the strain has been showing on Billy’s parent’s relationship. There are a lot of arguments and the hate mail and nasty telephone calls the family recieves does not help matters. Billy even believes his neighbours are responisble for murdering his dog and that is just the tip of the iceberg. Within less than a year Billy has returned to London and has recorded everything that has happened in his Red Diary.

Part Two

By 1995 Invicta Cross has been voted Britain’s favourite town and it is a very different place. The people are the same though. All except two. There is a new couple in town. They call themselves Jack and Polly Prentiss. The couple reek of money and success and are instantly accepted into the community. Jack is tall, muscular, and very good looking; and Polly is a real knock out to look at. Even if she is, perhaps, a little on the strange side. Then the neighbourhood pranks start. They are nasty pranks and this time it isn’t the new family that are on the receiving end. It is everyone else. Suddenly life at Invicta Cross isn’t so idyllic. Suspicion is rife, neighbour turns on neighbour, and people start to disappear—the times they are a changing in Britain’s favourite town.

Yeah, part two of Psychoville is about revenge and some pretty nasty things happen to the characters. Part two of the book is also a little sad. Jack and Polly’s relationship always seems to be doomed and, as I read the book, I almost felt like screaming at them: ‘Give it up guys. Just go. Find somewhere and be happy together.’ If they had left though, the story would have been only half told.

Psychoville is very well written, and is so good that I was rather sad when I reached the end and had to lay the book aside. Some clipping add a nice touch to the book. In part one, at the beginning of each chapter, there is a paragraph from a newspaper that documents real-life anti-social behaviour between neighbours. In part two things are different. The the paragraphs are excerpts from the Red Diary. It’s a nice touch, it’s a great story and I think this is a book that any reader could enjoy; not just hardened horror fans. ‘Nuff said.