Author: Emerald Fennell
Number of Pages: 340
TW: Child Sexual Abuse, Incest, Animal Cruelty, Domestic Abuse
I loved this book! I bought it partially because someone online compared it to The Wasp Factory, which is one of my favorites. I don’t think Monsters is as messed up as The Wasp Factory, but it holds its own as a strange and deliciously morbid experience. The main character, a very twisted little girl who remains unnamed throughout, is twelve when the story starts and has lost her parents in a tragic accident- but ‘don’t worry,’ she assures the reader, ‘she isn’t that sad about it.’
She lives with her grandma, who indulges her obsessive love of murder and mayhem and seems to share certain proclivities. During the summers the main character visits her aunt and uncle’s hotel in a small coastal community where everybody knows everybody. Uncle Frederick is abusive towards his wife and also abuses the narrator physically and sexually.
Then two major events occur- the bodies of several young women wash up on the beach and a boy named Miles arrives at the hotel. Miles’ mother is extremely overbearing and seems to have incestuous inclinations towards her son (for instance, she forces him to bathe with her even though he’s thirteen.) Miles is sick of being dressed up like a doll by his mother and having her dictate every single thing he does, and he recognizes a fellow sociopath-in-the-making in the narrator.
They pretend to be interested in ‘solving’ the murders when they really just admire the killer and want to know how he or she did it. Of course, the locals are awful too, just a bunch of useless gossips eager for their five minutes of fame. The adults mostly have this exaggerated, caricature-ish quality, like the novels of Roald Dahl or A Series of Unfortunate Events. They have no ability or interest in protecting the children from trauma and abuse, preferring to fight among themselves and be overall terrible people.
The narrator is plenty fucked-up but she’s no Miles. That kid has a pretty definite future as a mass murderer ahead of him. I loved the main character’s narrative voice. It’s so deadpan and, while precocious and ruthlessly perceptive, still has a recognizably childlike quality to it. The world Fennell creatures is wonderfully strange and has a timeless quality to it, feeling like it could have been set anywhere from the 1940’s to present day.
There’s no mention of modern technology or social media, which along with the setting gives it a strong Gothic vibe. The ending wasn’t my favorite, but it did have a cynicism and irony to it that fit the story and I started to like it more the more I thought about it. I’d love to see what the narrator and Miles will be up to in ten years. Speaking of which, I’ve got to watch Promising Young Woman soon!