Filler content with voyeurs

A review that originally appeared in Black Static #1:-

I WANT TO WATCH by DIEGO DE SILVA
William Heinemann hardback, 196pp, £10.99

This is one of those elusive books that slip through the cracks of genre; not really Crime fiction, though marketed as such, nor Horror though undeniably horrific, but it should appeal to the readers of both tribes.

Certainly the opening sequence is shocking. A man first plays with and then murders a young girl, the act described in graphic detail, the understated and controlled prose capturing the amoral nature of its perpetrator. The killer is Advocate David Heller, a prominent criminal defence attorney, and he is observed dumping the girl’s body on a beach by teen prostitute Celeste.

For a while two strands run parallel. On the one hand Heller’s aggressive career moves and failure to make a connection with women of his own age, and on the other Celeste’s relationship with her family and the men she goes with, one of whom abuses her. Then Celeste makes contact with Heller. He thinks she intends to blackmail him, but the young woman has something very different in mind. And so the machinery is set in motion that will ultimately bring us to an ending as unexpected as it is savage.

This is a novel fraught with moral ambiguity, a beautifully observed book but also one that challenges the reader’s expectations and asks uncomfortable questions of us through its amorality, and the fact that though what they do is monstrous these people, even Heller, are not actually portrayed as monsters. We never really get a handle on either character. We don’t know why Heller acts as he does; only that he has a drive to self-destruction that he seems helpless to control, and that Celeste offers him a momentary reprieve by showing an interest. Similarly for Celeste, there is no explanation for her behaviour, though in hindsight you can see that she is a deeply unhappy person, her lifestyle reflecting a low self-worth. I Want to Watch is a novel of character, recording extremes of human nature and reporting back on what it finds, but with no real conclusions to offer, just the facts and nothing else, so that ultimately we too want to watch, are all in some way voyeurs at our own dissolution, De Silva leaving us to make up our own minds, to find a position and see if we can defend it.

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