The Last Days of Jack Sparks | Jason Arnopp | 2016 (28 July) | Orbit | 432p | Review copy | Buy the book
When Jack Sparks decides to write a book on something he certainly throws himself into it, as his books on pogo sticking across the UK and drugs attest. Writing these he did a lot of both. Perhaps not surprisingly, his agent is less than happy when Jack announces that his next book is to be on the supernatural. But Jack is not to be persuaded especially after he’s attended an exorcism deep in rural Italy. And then there’s the video that has suddenly appeared on his own YouTube account. If only he hadn’t watched the video… But it’s too late. Jack Sparks died during the writing of this book.
Jack Sparks’ last book gathers together his unpolished draft and his rough notes, annotated on occasion by his brother Alistair who has given himself the job of publishing the book, along with transcripts and reports from some of the people that Jack consulted during his research. What we’re given is an investigation into the supernatural that makes you want to hang on for dear life as our narrator takes us deeper and deeper into something that he cannot let go of, even if he wanted to, and the result is horrifying and hysterical by turn.
The Last Days of Jack Sparks is a fantastically original ghost story. Dominated by the manic personality of Jack Sparks and annotated by the brother that Jack could barely stand, it is also a fine example of the ‘Unreliable Narrator’. We hear more than one version of an event time after time and sometimes the contradiction is quite shocking – Jack mentions something almost in passing and then another character will reveal what actually happened. But are they speaking the truth? And clearly Alistair the brother is after some redemption – but at what cost to the truth?
This is a spectacularly fun novel to read and Jason Arnopp is to be congratulated on how he’s written such an imaginative and creative reworking on one of the familiar themes of ghost horror fiction – the exorcism. Not only is it really terrifying in places but it is also extremely funny and wonderfully ridiculous as Jack Sparks spirals further and further out of control into something he tries to understand, to explain, but he can’t. And how cross, frustrated and exasperated this makes Jack. His personality pours out of the novel while at the same time we are scared out of our wits by events. It is such a funny book despite the scares. It also makes great use of social media. Even that is turned into an agent of horror.
There are so many shocks in this clever, clever novel and they lead up to the most brilliant conclusion. What an ending! You know that Jack Sparks is going to die, that’s made clear from the very first page, but it still doesn’t prepare you for what actually happens. I lapped up this hugely enjoyable, spooky, creepy pageturner, reading it late into the night, loving all the varied emotions it made me feel, sometimes all at the same time – frightened, amused, shocked, saddened, thoroughly entertained. Just the thought of some of it still makes me shiver…