Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Science Fiction, Horror Publication.Date November 9th 2010 (Hardcover edition) Pages: 358 Published By: Feiwel & Friends Website Andrew Smith The Marbury Lens My review copy: Review copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
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Sixteen-year-old Jack gets drunk and is in the wrong place at the wrong time. He is kidnapped. He escapes, narrowly. The only person he tells is his best friend, Conner. When they arrive in London as planned for summer break, a stranger hands Jack a pair of glasses. Through the lenses, he sees another world called Marbury.
There is war in Marbury. It is a desolate and murderous place where Jack is responsible for the survival of two younger boys. Conner is there, too. But he’s trying to kill them.
Meanwhile, Jack is falling in love with an English girl, and afraid he’s losing his mind.
Conner tells Jack it’s going to be okay.
But it’s not.
Andrew Smith has written his most beautiful and personal novel yet, as he explores the nightmarish outer limits of what trauma can do to our bodies and our minds.
I was thinking. What if the world was like one of those Russian nesting dolls? What if we only saw one surface of it, the outside, but there was all kinds of other stuff going on, too? All the time. Underneath. But we just don't see it, even if we're part of it? Even if we're in it? And what if you had a chance to see a different layer, like flipping a channel or something? Would you want to look? Even if what you saw looked like hell? Or worse?
Henry believed that Marbury was a world out of balance. He needs to take a closer look at this one.
The one sure thing about Marbury is that it’s a horrible place. But so is right here, too. And there’s certain benefit in the obviousness of its brutality, because in Marbury there’s no doubt about the nature of things: good and evil, or guilt and innocence, for example. Not like here, where you could be sitting in the park next to a doctor or someone and not have any idea what a sick and dangerous sonofabitch he really is. Because we always expect things to be proper, even if we haven’t learned our fucking lesson that it just doesn’t work out like that all the time.
So, you have this ugly choice: Save yourself or save your friendship. It's why the shitheads who run things turn boys into soldiers: to us, the bond is more important - a flag, an officer, your teammate - the things that deserve our lives more than we deserve to hold on to them.
Sweepingly imaginative, boldly visionary and entirely compelling, The Marbury Lens is a book like no other out there. I've been sitting here, trying to figure out what other work of fiction I could compare it to, hoping to give you an idea of what you should be prepared for. But trying to draw parallels proved to be an exercise in futility. There's not a single book (or movie) out there that would be similar in concept. Or as impressive in execution. The Marbury Lens is a wholly original, untameable beast. And there is no preparing yourself for it. You dive in head first, hold your breath and pray to make it out with your soul and sanity intact. And good luck. You'll need it.
And that hole is Marbury.
To celebrate their upcoming trip to England, Jack and his best friend, Conner, throw a going-away party at Conner's place. Jack gets hammered and he ends up taking a walk back home. He never makes it there. He falls to sleep on a bench in a park and is woken up by a seemingly trustworthy doctor who offers to give him a lift back home. Jack's decision to get in the car with Freddie Horvath will change his life forever, triggering a chain of terrifying events that will have him desperate, scared and lost.
And that's only the beginning. When he finally arrives in England, a weird-looking guy hands him a pair of glasses, insisting that they belong to him. Driven by curiosity, Jack puts them on and he is instantly transported to a different world. A world called Marbury, a vicious, desolate place where forces of good and evil are locked in a never-ending, multidimensional conflict.
Hey, Nickie, did I tell you about how I got kidnapped by this sick guy named Freddie Horvath? And how he shot me up with drugs and shocked me, and I thought I was going to die? And, oh yeah, he tried to rape me, too?
But I got away from him.
YOU DIDN'T GET AWAY FROM ANYTHING, JACK.
Freddie Horvath did something to my brain.
And then me and my best friend, Conner, killed him. It was an accident, but we fucking killed him, just the same. Did I tell you that, Nickie? Or, did I tell you about how I can't even remember anything about meeting you today because I hallucinated some crazy shit about people getting hacked into pieces and eaten by bugs? Or how I got shot through my side with an arrow?
Did I tell you about that, Nickie?
Because I do remember that.
The look at Jack's psyche is utterly terrifying. Everything that happens to him, everything he goes through, every struggle he faces - both internal and external alike - is painfully and mind-numbingly real. You live through all the experiences with him, you taste his fear, anger and disgust, you close your fists, gasp for breath and look around suspiciously. Smith's writing is so convincing, so overpowering, you almost hear the roll.. tap, tap, tap as you read and it thoroughly freaks you out. Now, I don't know about you, but when I read, I get completely lost in the story. And this story here made it all too easy for me to get lost in it, to the point I had trouble finding my way back. From the powerful and furiously disturbing beginning to the semi-positive, partially inconclusive ending - I was paralysed by the intensity of this book. Smith's prose evokes many emotions, from fear to almost physical pain and sadness. I was especially affected by the first few chapters. The way the author described everything that happened to Jack during the short period of time when he was held captive by the sick-o kidnapper made my skin crawl. It was gut-wrenching, disquieting and awful. And knowing that - like Jack Withmore - the author also lived through some truly terrifying experiences as a teen (including being kidnapped), made it that much harder for me to stomach the opening passages of the story.
I know this is going to sound insane, and I'm sorry for it, but a part of me wanted to go back to Freddie's house. Like there was something I'd left behind that I could only have if I went back to that room and went back to my place on that bed.
Like I belonged there.
Like I deserved it.
I sat there until it was too dark for me to see the sick, undressed, and dirty kid in my goddamned mirror.
It was the first time in my life I wanted to kill myself.
Jack is a truly complex character. He's not easy to like (nor does he give a shit if you like him or not), but he grows on you as the story progresses. He seems pretty tough on the outside and is capable of pushing himself to new limits, but he's also riddled with anxiety and very fragile on the inside (both emotionally and psychologically). As he struggles to make sense of what is happening to him, he begins to question his own sanity. Is the world of Marbury real? Or did he lose his mind? Did he really get away or is he still strapped to the bed in the madman's house? Jack isn't sure and therefore we can never be sure either.
I was thinking, What if the world was like that? What if we only saw one surface of it, the outside, but there was all kinds of other stuff going on, too? All the time. Underneath. But we just don't see it, even if we're part of it? Even if we're in it? And what if you had a chance to see a different layer, like flipping a channel or something? Would you want to look? Even if what you saw looked like hell? Or worse?
While this book is not for everyone -- those who are bothered by scenes of graphic violence, coarse language and unanswered questions shouldn't bother -- any reader with taste for macabre and intellectual challenges will appreciate it. If you're expecting cheap thrills, linear action-sequences and ridiculously cheesy (but somewhat heart warming) happy endings, you will be let down. This book is not about conquering evil villains, saving damsels in distress and riding off into the sunset. It's about pain, fear and desperation. It's about having your safety and sanity brutally ripped away from you. It's about a traumatic life-changing experience, and the chaos that follows. Self-blame, shame, weakness, falling apart and losing your mind. At the same time, it's also about the healing power of human relationships. About friendship, sacrifice and perseverance. It's about doing the right thing, no matter how dangerous it is or how bad it hurts. The Marbury Lens is about many things -- all of them utterly compelling and profoundly affecting.
Sometimes, okay, a lot of times, I'd stare at that spot on the floor - Stella drew imaginary circles around it with her fingers whenever she'd retell the story - and I'd wish that Amy had been standing at the top of a ladder or something so Little Jack would have hit his head just hard enough that he'd never know any world could ever exist outside of the lukewarm nothing of the amnesiac womb.
To say that this book is dark and unsettling would be a huge understatement. I have never read another YA-categorized novel that would be as disturbing and overwhelmingly dark as The Marbury Lens. Quite frankly there was nothing YA about this story (other than the fact that the main characters are teenagers). Reading it - while fascinating and breathtaking - is not a pleasant experience. It makes you feel like you're drowning. And this feeling doesn't go away after you turn the last page. It stays to haunt you. Days after I finished this book, I was still thinking about it, reeling from it. It's not a book for the faint of heart, but fans of fantasy noir, disturbing (and meaningful) themes and visually stunning mind-benders will love it.
Beware, though. The darkness in this book might consume you. Are you brave enough to read it?
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