Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Book Review: Awoken by Serra Elinsen



Given how it’s been almost three years since publication, and the persons involved have been quite open about it since, I’m once again going for the fact behind the veneer with this one. Serra Elinsen, as a person, doesn’t exist. As a writer, she is the pen name of the initially titled 50 Shades Of Green project, headed by  Team NChick (Lindsay, Nella and Elisa). After the monster success of 50 Shades Of Grey, they got together and basically crowd-sourced the next worst paranormal romance fiction book for teens, getting ideas for character and plot and so for forth from their many Twitter followers. It’s rare that I’ll go into a project and know pretty much every little intent of the piece itself, which you’d think would make looking at a book that was, by authorial admission, meant to be terrible a lot easier than the media I usually cover on here. Well, as I have shown previously during Meta Month, intentional badness is an abnormal form of writing but it is one that shares no fewer potential pitfalls in its execution. If anything, this material is far harder to pull off than it may seem. So, let’s get started with this Lovecraftian love story, featuring hot Cthulhu. This is Awoken.

The plot: Andromeda Slate, or Andi as her friends call her, is just an average high school girl living in Portsmouth, New England. However, she soon discovers a new student has started in her class; a mysterious boy that is captivating to all the girls around him, and yet seems to hold some disdain for Andi. Trying to figure out this puzzle of a man, she gets brought into an evil plot to bring about the end of the world, as part of a ritual tying back to the Deep Ones of old.

Even as a crowd-funded novel, with each chapter written by a different author, this is a very tightly-crafted machine of a text. Not so much in that it’s a perfect story, as I’ll soon get into, but more that it’s perfectly designed. The characters are very defined, in that they are all chess pieces to move the plot along. Andromeda Slate, or ‘Lego Brick’ as she’s more affectionately known, is the single most self-loathing person on Earth, constantly going on about how painfully dull and average while seeing ill in other people that really haven’t done anything wrong. Her best friend Bridget Fifan, or Big Fat Friend, is an overweight redhead who is the life of the party, and yet people seem to vehemently avoid her, and she essentially exists to make Andi look better, what with her eating in every scene that she’s in. Her other best friend Vik, or the Ethnic Third Wheel, is the guy who is definitively far more stable than the actual love interest and whom Andi keeps brushing off as being like a big brother to her; he is the dictionary definition of ‘friend zone’. And then there’s Riley, the mysterious and immaculate romantic lead who showers Andi in gifts and love, while also being abusive and controlling in their relationship. Even with how supposedly perfect he is, however, Andi keeps finding reasons to doubt him beyond the painfully obvious ones. All of these characters, along with the supporting cast, fill out their roles and it does tap into a certain amount of enjoyable bad given how over-the-top caricature they all are.

It tried to follow the Twilight formula and, honestly, it ended up exceeding it immensely. It has all the prophetic dreams, the creepy stares misinterpreted as loving glances, the love triangle that goes nowhere, the rescue from potential rape, the lack of lessons learnt by the focal character, the lack of response to the reprehensible actions of the male lead, the allusions of classic works of fiction to try and make it sound deeper than it is (“In dreams, he came” from The Phantom Of The Opera is on the book cover, along with the constant comparisons made by Andi) right down to the confrontation with the villain in a locale associated with performing arts; it’s like a scientific method the way it ticks all the boxes for Twilight rip-off. But there are even points where it ends up going even further than that, both for legitimate and illegitimate reasons. Legitimately, rather than just having the main character(s) in danger,the whole of existence is at stake from having the Deep Ones awake and erase everything. There’s also a certain kind of self-awareness to the story itself, the kind that is usually found in a lot of fanfiction; 50 Shades Of Grey had traces of it as well. It’s that limited genre-savvy kind of awareness where a character will know already that the police will never get involved in this (and they don’t), but never thinks to call anyone else for help when something happens. Except for Riley, of course.

Illegitimately, there are points where the cheesiness of the story and character decisions get so much that it seriously becomes a laugh riot just reading through it. Easily the biggest example is pretty much the majority of the twelfth chapter Cosmopolis, which is essentially every single moment of female wish fulfillment distilled into just a few pages. While Riley and Andi are in New York for plot reasons, Riley takes her to see all the sites, have a dinner in a fancy restaurant, go out to see The Phantom Of The Opera on Broadway, and then Riley stops the bad guys who attack without Andi being affected by or even seeing any of it. From what I’ve heard, it was Nella who wrote this chapter and wow, you can almost tell just how much fun she was having thinking of all the things to include in it. All that was missing was chocolates, a warm pillow and a mention of him putting the toilet seat down, and this would be literally every aspect of wish fulfillment for the female sex. All of that dedication and clear effort in this thing is definitely commendable.

But there is a rather big thing that is holding me back somewhat on recommending it, either as a satire or as a genuine romantic title. The reasons for both of these, oddly enough, are exactly the same: Andi’s self-esteem issues. I mentioned earlier how much Andi just whines in her narration about how insignificant she is, despite Riley constantly giving her reasons to think different, and how no-one truly loves her and how could this happen to be, I made my mistakes, etc. Well, that happens a lot in this book. A little too much, to be honest. It kind of grinds the joke into the ground with just how much they keep hitting that one note over and over again and, while it is funny initially, it starts to really grate on you after a while. But that’s when I’m in on the joke; what about the casual reader? Well, this self-loathing has a reason for being in here, much like everything else, as it’s a means to connect the frustrated teen/housewife to the main character. However, unless we’re dealing with a person who has depression the likes of which Steven Wright would just throw Prozac at by the handful, I doubt that genuinely connecting with Andi is even possible. Hell, I have some serious self-esteem issues myself, and even I couldn’t stand to hear (or read, rather) her moaning on and on about her perceived lack of self-worth. Maybe the aim was to actively make the reader feel so much better about themselves, since very few people would be this prying for attention, but either way, the problem remains that this constant narrative tic really drags a fair bit of the book’s worth down.

All in all, while the abuse of the main character’s internal self-abuse gets tired fairly quickly and can drag some of the comedic value down with her, this is a book that is very well-versed in being crap. The characters are almost robotic in how they fill their necessary character archetypes, the plot intentionally keeps potentially interesting plots and characters, like Riley’s uncle Neil, off to the side for some astoundingly trite lessons on love and destiny and the prose, even with its repetitious notes, takes every stereotype associated with these types of stories and cranks them up until it becomes a pantomime. Reading this felt a lot like reading 50 Shades Of Grey; I was half-giggling and half-facepalming at everything on the page. Except this time, said facepalming wasn’t a result of criminally stupid ideals concerning women, but rather because of the obviously trite morals and themes of the story. You can probably find a copy of this floating around on Amazon and, if you’re the kind of person who can see the silliness in Twilight and laugh at it rather than rage out, I’d recommend checking it out. If you like Twilight sincerely… eh, at least give it a shot; chances are it’s at least the most literate of the titles out there. If you’re the kind of Lovecraft/general literary geek that is likely to say “raping Lovecraft”, “Hitler” and/or “Trump” when discussing the book afterwards, grow the fuck up and maybe give this try: Even with all its intended saccharinity, it is very articulate when it comes to the impossible images and mental defragging that are associated with the Cthulhu mythos, so you can easily scratch that itch on some of these chapters.

Well, we’ve gone over a nice little umbrella of reviewers over the last month. Next time, the gloves come off as we go after the big guy in this game… and chances are, a lot of you aren’t gonna like it.

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