Tarantula: The Skin I Live In by Thierry Jonquet

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Tarantula: The Skin I Live In by Thierry Jonquet

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: They might not have the immediate re-readability of your favourites, but this bijou nightmare has more than enough punch throughout its pages.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 128 Date: July 2011
Publisher: Serpent's Tail
ISBN: 978-1846687945

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In a large French country house, an expert in facial reconstruction surgery keeps a beautiful woman locked up in her bedroom. He placates her with opium, but barks orders through hugely powerful speakers and an intercom. She tantalises him with her sexuality, which he tries to ignore, except for when he seems to abuse it in a sort of S/M way when he does let her into society, as he forces her to prostitute herself. Elsewhere, a young, inept bank robber holes himself up in a sunny house, waiting for the heat to die. And finally, a young man is held chained up in a cellar at the hands of an unknown possessor.

This is one of those small, powerful books where you start knowing nothing and end up knowing perhaps too much. You don't initially know why it's called 'Tarantula', nor why it was once called 'Mygale', nor why it's just been filmed as 'The Skin I Live In'. The first couple of pages even seem to be the actions not of a character as such, but darkness, shadows and tiny slivers of light.

But learn things we do, of a kind and in a way I will be respectfully cagey about. The plot is superlative, and I will say no more. We also learn through the styles used - not just the slightly formal, clipped, modernist approach, but the galling second person, past tense used with the male abductee - 'he did this... you felt...'.

I've since learnt things from elsewhere, in that the film sounds very different. It would have to be, but I can't see room for improvement. The spider's web of imprisonment, changed and changing people and their singular past tragedies is near-perfect here. It doesn't try to be a metaphor for anything, from my reading, just a brilliant, twisted, dark, nightmarish little package of plotting. I'll never recommend it to my mother - and there's one late scene I most certainly would not wish to see done by Almodovar, but I was, like several people here, trapped, if not changed. I still now want to see the cinema version, knowing archly I've read the superior original, and I urge the more strong-stomached of you to do likewise.

I must thank the kind Serpent's Tail people for my review copy.

Another spooky thriller with a medical bent recently enjoyed by us here has been Before I Go To Sleep by S J Watson. While this isn't a straight thriller in style, they will both stick with you.

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