Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Review of Choke on Your Lies by Anthony Neil Smith (2011)

Mick Thooft is a poet and a professor at a small, elite college. His wife, a professor in the same department, has left him for the provost and she wants sole ownership of their house. Thooft is prepared to roll over and let his wife crush him, but his friend since high school, Octavia VanderPlatts is having none of it. Octavia is wealthy, powerful, devious and enormously over-weight. Highly intelligent, with an ability to read the psychology of opponents and to bend them to her will, she has become enormously wealthy suing large corporations. Thooft’s wife it transpires has not only been sleeping with the provost, but also a fair few faculty, staff and one of his students. She’s also been forging his signature. Octavia tries to install a bit of backbone into Thooft, but they’re up against a swinger’s club with plenty to hide and the intelligence to make life difficult. Just as they start to get the upper hand, Thooft’s new girlfriend is found dead, his wife is missing, and he and Octavia have been arrested. It’s going to take all of Octavia’s cunning to sort out the ensuing mess.

The star of this novel is Octavia. She’s a talented sociopath - completely self-absorbed, self-centred, and incapable of empathy (though she occasionally pretends she has some). She demands loyalty and is happy to entrap people to get it, and despite her massive size she manages to seduce both men and women. She takes great delight in verbally abusing people and making their life hell. And she doesn’t give a hoot what people think of her, she’s going to get her way in any case. She is helping Thooft in order to crush his wife who she has hated since she was taken off the guest list to their marriage. She’s an absolute blast to read about. Thooft on the other hand is annoying wuss who you want to slap. And that’s the rub with this novel for me. I just couldn’t connect with the main character, who often seemed quite schizophrenic in temperament but always annoying. Octavia was fantastic, as were the most of the other characters. The story was interesting with its mix of swinging, blackmail, lies and crosses, and Smith has a steady hand at the tiller guiding it along. There’s some nice twists and turns, some well constructed scenes, and a nice darkly comic streak running throughout. Overall, an entertaining read and I’d like to read another Octavia novel (though preferably without Thooft in tow).

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