Filler content in a world of hurt

This review originally appeared on the old TTA Press website on 16 July 2008:-

Earthling Publications hardback, 148pp, $40

As a child Andrei was dead for over thirty minutes, but on his return to life he has no idyllic memories of being called into a white light by his loved ones. Instead his near death experience was a nightmare vision of pain and torment, one which has left him terrified of dying. As an adult he lives with his sister, afraid to leave his room, corresponding on the internet with people who have had similar experiences. Then one of the people he befriends is brutally murdered, and Andrei realises that now the killer will come for him. He has become embroiled in an age old battle between forces of good and evil, and as a result learns rather more of Gnostic truth than he wishes. His only hope for survival rests with a young woman who is far more than she seems.

The theological (mythological?) backdrop to this short novel is fascinating, presenting a bleak vision of existence in which the creator has been transplanted by an idiot god with a sick sense of humour (shades of Lovecraft’s Azathoth), a concept with moral and philosophical implications that are staggering, and which Hodge explores through the medium of his three main characters.

Andrei is Everyman, given a glimpse behind the machinery that moves the world and looking for a way out, realising that there is nothing but despair, and at the end the suggestion that he has found redemption of a kind through accepting that and finding the will to sacrifice himself for others. In the ordinarily named Bruce, a remorseless and inventive killer, World of Hurt has the perfect villain, a larger than life embodiment of pure evil who will set a chill in the reader’s heart as the violent acts he commits are brought to compelling and grisly life on the page. And then there is Manon, who loves Andrei but is forced to do terrible things to those she loves in order to survive, morality of a kind embodied in her person, the realisation that our comfortable existences are never anything more than a compromise, a lesser cruelty to avert something far more terrible

World of Hurt is not a comfortable read, but nor should it be. There are scenes of torture that are harrowing for the reader and if you are in any way squeamish then I would caution you to avoid it. But Hodge is never gratuitous. There is a purpose to the cruelties he inflicts on his characters, and the end result is both a compelling story and an intriguing philosophical document, a short novel that asks hard questions about life and the nature of good and evil, and does so with elegance and passion.

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