Review: Read Me by Leo Benedictus
Published by Twelve on August 7, 2018
Hitchcock's Rear Window meets Messud's The Woman Upstairs in this unnerving, superbly crafted novel which takes readers deep into the mind of a serial stalker and, through him, the lives of his unsuspecting victims.
Try it yourself. Go out, pick somebody and watch them. Take your phone and a notebook. Persist. What begins as a confluence of yours and another person's journeys, on the train maybe or leaving a cinema, gets into an entanglement. You follow, feeling that it's not really following because you're going the same way, then when they at last reach their office you feel the clutch of a goodbye. It's normal. But how many times do you think the person being followed has been you?READ ME is a seductive, haunting novel that holds a sinister mirror up to the ways in which we observe, judge, and influence people. Benedictus' prose commands and draws readers into the dark, manipulative mind of a serial stalker as he targets women across London, escalating his efforts until he settles on Frances -- a bright young professional whose career is set to take off -- whose life he proceeds to unravel from the inside, out.A chilling rumination on power, manipulation, complicity, and anonymity, READ ME exposes just how vulnerable we are to the whims of others -- people we may not even know.
Read Me is not a traditional type of story, but I found it fascinating. It takes you into the thoughts and actions of a serial stalker as he chooses and watches his prey. I am always intrigued by stories that take you into the mind of someone that is unhinged because the stories always tend to illustrate that they don’t tend to see themselves that way. They see themselves as reasonable, rational people with motives that make sense to themselves at least (if no one else).
You get their rationale and logic behind their actions, and while you may still see the “crazy” in them, it tends to be somewhat tempered and humanized to at least some extent. Although, in this case, it may not be humanizing so much as a capturing the stalker’s complete lack of human empathy and understanding of what consequences his actions could have for others. While he watches and learns everything he can about his current obsession, he also wonders if what he is doing is even a crime. His thought process on this is that if the person he is stalking remains completely ignorant of his activity, is it a crime? The way he sees it is that they are not impacted, in fact, they don’t even know, blissfully unaware, of his stalking. So how can it be a crime? He is so absorbed in his own world and his own desires and motivations, he is completely detached from everything else. This is part of what makes this a slower read than one might expect. Instead of being an adrenaline pumping thriller that has you leaping to turn to the next page as quickly as possible, you are instead immersed in his inner thoughts, processing what they mean for him and others, and how he sees things differently than you would expect. It’s a book that is interesting for the thinking it makes you do about the main character, his motivations, and the consequences of his actions.
I am honestly unsure what genre this book should fall into. The concept sounds like it could be a thriller or possibly even horror. However, the story is told in a way that it does not have the pace or tension that you would normally associate with those genres. But that doesn’t mean that it is not a very compelling read, it’s just different, and sometimes different can be a very good thing. For me this was one of those time.
While I greatly enjoyed this one, I will warn you this will not be a book that pleases everyone. It is different, unique and I obviously found it quite compelling. However, you have to enjoy the process of getting into someone else’s mind, learning about their thoughts and motivations, savoring the journey. Action is not the driving force, but diving into a character’s psyche is. If that’s the type of thing you enjoy, I definitely recommend giving this one a read.