Spider is gaunt, threadbare, unnerved by everything from his landlady to the smell of gas. He tells us his story in a storm of beautiful language that slowly reveals itself as a fiendishly layered construction of truth and illusion. With echoes of Beckett, Poe, and Paul Bowles, Spider is a tale of horror and madness, storytelling and skepticism, a novel whose dizzying style lays bare the deepest layers of subconscious terror.
There are several things that make this story a stand-out. The story itself is one of those that grabs the reader from the start and doesn't let go. The atmosphere and the setting of the story is so dark, claustrophobic, and damp, that the story has a sensory appeal that pulls the reader even farther into the tale. Then, as the reader becomes entwined in the mind of a schizophrenic, reality and delusion both mix for the character in the book as well as for the reader. What is true? What is not? You need to decide!
I loved reading thsi book. It's truly a book to experience. Highly recommended!.
As expected with any of his novels, the narrator is unreliable. Slowly over the course of the story the reader will realize this and be forced to wonder how much (if any) of what she’s reading is real. So much in Spider’s tale is impossible for him to know, yet he tells us anyway and we can’t help but form a catalog of ideas based upon this “knowledge”. Allegory, imagery and misdirection play a large role and make teasing apart the layers a delight, especially when something is revealed and we have a delicious “ah-ha” moment. There are many of them to savor in this harrowing tale of madness and self-deception.
Every time I read a McGrath novel I’m strengthened in my opinion that he writes madness the most convincingly of any writer I’ve encountered. Here are some examples -
Spider is convinced there is something in the attic making noise and driving him crazy -
“(Dear God I wish silence would descend on this house! They’ve started up again, and they seem to be stamping up there now, they keep it up for minutes on end and then collapse, helpless, apparently, with laughter. I’ve been standing on my chair and baning on the ceiling with my shoe, but it does no good at all, in fact it only seems to make things worse. Mrs. Wilkinson has much to answer for, and the disturbance of my sleep by these creatures is not he least of it. And my insides still hurt!)” (p 74)
and later on page 88 -
Spider identifies with his father’s feeling of malevolence upon finding the other-worldly physical state of his garden where he has buried the wife he murdered -
“(I know this feeling, I too have been tormented in this way, I too have felt them clacking and clicking round the back of my head like the teeth of a hound, like a cloud of chattering gnats, in fact the sound is rarely absent, though most of the time it is mercifully subdued, more of a hum than anything else.)
Bit by bit, chinks are showing in his armor, he’s losing his ability to keep track of his concealment of his madness. He’s losing what he feels is his control. Spider is escaping the back room more and more. Some more examples -
Spider feels like the memories he’s writing don’t come from his head, but from his pencil -
“When this happens I have the curious sensation not of writing but of being written, and it has come to arouse in me feelings of terror, faint at first but growing stronger day by day.” (p 134)
“All is quiet in the attic now and my terror has abated, to some extent. My relationship to this book is changing: when I began to write I intended to record the conclusions I’d arrived at about the events of the autumn and winter of my thirteenth year; and in the process I thought I’d buttress and support myself, shore up my shaky identity, for since being discharged I have not been strong. But all this has changed; I write now to control the terror that comes when the voices start up in the attic each night. They have grown worse, you see, much worse and it is only with the flow of my own words that I am able to block out the clamor of theirs. I dare not think of the consequences were I to stop writing and listen to them.” (p 150)
At first Spider can separate the timelines in his story - present writing in the journal and his daily routine and suspicions, and the story of his past. Then the lines blur and within paragraphs the two timelines reside, as they had previously been separated. Then even within a single sentence they both lay, intertwined. I truly believe this is what it must be like to be insane. It’s during this pitch that McGrath’s writing is at its strongest. He has such control of the narrative, subtly shifting the tone and perspective of how Spider understands his life and how he chooses to reveal or conceal it. There is so much to love about this novel and I’m going nowhere with this review so I’ll wrap it up by saying if you’ve never read a McGrath, do yourself a favor and read one immediately. You won’t be disappointed.