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Book review: <i>The Book Of Revelation</i> by Rupert Thomson

the cover of the book

The Book Of Revelation was lent to me by Luke, who bought it for a dollar at our local second hand bookshop. He passed it on to me in the hope that I would concur with him about just how average it was, and how the moral of the story is, sometimes you get what you pay for. What neither of us knew was that the Australians apparently made it into a movie... and even after reading it, I'm a bit intrigued.

The story

Our unnamed protagonist is an English dancer in The Netherlands. He pops out of the studio one day to buy his bossy and overbearing girlfriend cigaretttes, and isn't seen again for nearly three weeks, having been kidnapped and forced into sexual slavery by three women. He is forced to do all manner of things, including, bizarrely, dancing for a group of their friends shackled and naked. He does not expect to be released into an unfamiliar suburb in Amsterdam, to just pick up his life where he left off. And how is he supposed to do that, anyway?

Our protaganist, having been abducted and violated, now has to try and get back on to his life. But with this dark secret hanging over his head, how is he supposed to go on? How will it affect his life, and can he resume some kind of normal existence?

The style

It's a bit of a shame, but I feel as though that the writing style failed the storyline. The story itself, while sounding somewhat bizzare, tackles some pretty heavy issues, and in all fairness does it pretty well. While the likelyhood of some guy getting kidnapped in the manner of the protagonist is very unlikely, the emotional turmoil and whatnot that he experiences, not to mention the aftermath and his coping, are fairly credible. And furthermore, Thomson manages to keep his writing about abuse both gendered and genderless in all the right places. By this I mean, during the abuse, the issue is abuse, not "oh-my-god-,female-on-male-abuse-what-bitches". It doesn't become like other books about male victims that I have read; designed to make you imagine that actually, violence and rape aren't usually instigated against females (this kind of story is one of my pet peeves. Instead, I got the sense of shame, despair, desperation, self-worthlessness and other feelings that are universal in abuse victims. Then, when he was released, I was equally impressed by how the protagonist dealt with his trauma - the way that many male abuse victims deal with it. Not only the selection of negative emotions that most people use to cope, but the additional problem of having to cope "like a man" - by being silent, because male abuse isn't spoken about, recognised, or adequately dealt with in most societies. The feelings he experienced were so authentic, and the aftermath of the event within his life seemed fairly realistic. I thought that these elements of the story were managed admirably.

On the other hand, Thomson's writing style left me cold. And occasionally shuddering. I mean, I love the elipsis, don't get me wrong. But seriously, they are meant to be used with discretion. Once every three sentences is complete overkill. Furthermore, there is something funny about the style; I think too many commas and not enough snappy sentences, that creates that icky feeling I get when I read things that have been written in the present tense there is something a bit off about it. The descriptions, the dialogue, the dancers - something about everything just seemed a bit styalised, a bit pretentious, a bit staged. It just didn't really sit properly and that was a bit of a shame given the potential I saw in the story.

The story was divided up into three sections; the first before the abduction, the second the abduction itself, and the third the aftermath of the protaganists life. The first and the third sections are both written in the first person, but the story of the abduction itself is written in the third person. I can appreciate why this was done, as it removes a sense of the personal from the actual abuse, and creates a universality of the experience. It also views a horrendous experience from an objective, almost clinical, point of view, and I can imagine that trying to write about abuse from the point of view of a victim and maintain a sense of art - which Thomson was clearly going for - would probably fall pretty flat. So good on Thomson for recognising that, and I think it probably saved the story.

All in all, I'm undecided how I feel about The Book Of Revelation. Unfortunately, I don't think I want to read it again to find out.

Who is this book for?

I would read it for curiosity's sake, if just to check out the elipses. More seriously, if you are a victim of male abuse, it may assist with your recovery, aptly tackling issues surrounding feelings of guilt and shame, followed by rage, etc.

In short

Title: The Book Of Revelation
Author: Rupert Thomson
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing
ISBN: 0747544395
Year published: 1999
Pages: 264
Genre(s): Modern fiction, Psychological novel
Review Type: