Thursday, November 15, 2018

Review of The Last Days of Jack Sparks by Jason Arnopp (2016, Orbit)

Jack Sparks is the literary equivalent of a shock-jock – a loud, vulgar, offensive sociopath; always scheming and lying, and who lacks care and empathy. What drives him is his ego and its massaging by his fans and followers on every form of social media channel. His latest venture is 'Jack Sparks on the Supernatural' a book in which he sets out to debunk religion, the afterlife and the paranormal. His journey starts with an exorcism in Italy, which he interrupts by laughing at what he sees as an absurd, staged act. What follows is a series of increasingly creepy happenings, including a strange, haunting video with no provenance that appears on his YouTube channel that then disappears. Jack is determined to discover who made the video in order to prove it’s a hoax, using it as a means to gather content for his book as he meets with a combat magician and a group of paranormal investigators. But the more he tries to disprove the supernatural, the more it seems like it might exist, and it all seems to be leading to his inevitable death.

The Last Days of Jack Sparks follows the slow descent of a loutish, egotistical author as he tries to disprove the supernatural in the face of increasing evidence to the contrary. The story is told through the book notes of Jack Sparks, collated and edited by his brother, who also intersperses the text with other evidence, such as letters and audio transcript. Sparks is somewhat of an unreliable narrator who is determined to both shock readers and favourably script his own portrayal. He travels from Italy to Hong Kong to Los Angeles, pursued by the consequences of an exorcism he disrupted and prevented. He creates antagonism and resentment, and in his wake leaves a trail of destruction. By mid-way through it’s clear where the story is heading, though there is still plenty of intrigue, twists and gore. While it’s billed as a dark comedy, the humour fell a little flat for me, in part because it is all rooted in the awfulness of Jack Sparks, a character with no redeeming features who is loathsome throughout. The story is well constructed and told, but I can’t say I enjoyed the characters or story very much.

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