July 03, 2017

The Only Child - Andrew Pyper

Simon & Schuster, May 23, 2017.

Three Stars

In his newest novel, Canadian author Andrew Pyper reimagines the origins of gothic literature – from the perspective of the same monster that inspired the novels of Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker and Robert Louis Stevenson. He brings the terror and darkness of Frankenstein, Dracula and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde into a contemporary setting that highlights the fear these characters have inspired for decades.

Dr. Lily Dominick is a forensic psychiatrist who deals with New York’s most dangerous mental patients. She arrives at work one day to find that she has an attractive, compelling new client who has been accused of a shocking violent crime – but even more shocking are the outrageous claims he makes about himself. The first is that he is over 200 years old and was the inspiration for the masters of gothic literature. His second claim is that he is Lily’s father.

The man, who tells Lily that she can call him Michael, appears to be the same age as Lily, so she at first dismisses both claims. However, he has surprising information about the death of Lily’s mother – in fact, he admits that he was present at her death when Lily was a child. Before she can process her feelings about Michael’s claims, she learns that he has made a violent escape from custody. He quickly tracks Lily down and draws her into his terrifying world, framing her for a horrible crime.

A pursuit around the globe follows, as Lily attempts to clear her name and learn more from Michael. While she is drawn to him, she also fears him, and her emotions are conflicting – she feels a paternal attachment, wondering if he truly is her father, but she also feels sexual attraction to this enigmatic man. Her desire and her fear are mixed together in a way that is often difficult to read about – at times it is just icky.

Lily’s journey causes her to question her own sanity, and in the process, she comes close to losing everything – her friends, her career and even her life. Her humanity is the backbone of the novel – she is strong, intelligent and independent, but also emotional and sexual. The Only Child is a tense thriller, but it is also metafictional in that it questions the entire origin story of the horror genre.  However, the story begins to follow too many different threads, instead of focusing on the monster that holds it all together. The clues Lily follows are often too convenient to be believed.

Michael is a fascinating gothic monster, especially in the excerpts from his journals, in which he interacts with the authors Shelley, Stevenson and Stoker. The horror elements are powerful, but they are eclipsed in the end by the clich├ęd thriller ending – which really comprises the final third of the novel, where things took an odd and unnecessary turn. In the end, while there were parts that I really enjoyed, the story was dragged down by too many different themes, plot twists and innuendos.

I received this book from Simon & Schuster and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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