The Marbury Lens (by Andrew Smith)

20 02 2013

marburylensAndrew Smith’s The Marbury Lens starts off in the harshest of ways as a contemporary urban horror story in which 16-year-old Jack gets too drunk at a party and in a weird turn of events ends up being kidnapped by a horrible man, Freddie Horvath. Horvath consequently plays brutal mind games with him, molests him and intents on doing so much more than that… Jack narrowly escapes death and in the aftermath of this kidnapping he and his best friend Connor actually kill Freddie Horvath. Yes, you get kidnapping, attempted rape and murder all in the first 50 pages of this book… but that’s only the start because things are about to get much much worse…

Jack is left with the conflicting feelings of relief and guilt when he leaves for London to spend some time there checking out a school with his friend Connor (who will join him a few days later, which means Jack’s on his own at first). The entire Freddie Horvath experience only seems like a horrific prequel to what is about to happen once Jack arrives in London. A mysterious man, Henry Hewitt, slips him a pair of weird glasses and soon Jack realizes that looking through them takes him into a whole different – ugly, brutal, devastating – world: Marbury.  From then on out, Jack is progressively slipping into and out of worlds: the world “here” and the one in Marbury. Looking into the glasses has other side effects: Jack is starting to experience time loss, he gets sick every time he comes back from Marbury. And even more questions arise: is Henry Hewitt who gave him the glasses real or is he just imagining him? And what about Connor? Why and how is it possible that in one world Connor is his best friend and in that other world Connor is like a vicious beast who tries to kill him? And what about the girl he’s met in London, Nickie? What is her link to Marbury? Why can’t she see Marbury through the glasses? The plot of this book is so dense (I haven’t even mentioned Seth and the ghost plotline and Ben and Griffin, Jack’s friends in Marbury) that you’ll be on edge just to grasp what’s happening from page to page.

Despite the fact that the cat was definitely compelled to read on, reading The Marbury Lens, cannot be called a very “pleasant” experience (not that every reading experience should be a “pleasant” one, of course). The main emotions that kept coming back were indeed negative. There was confusion because you want to know how everything is tied together and it seems like you won’t get that resolution you’re after. Is there a reason why you get the elaborate Freddie Horvath prelude? How is Seth tied to Marbury and to Jack? But it’s also a seriously disturbing and unsettling book, which in turn instilled me with feelings of unease and anxiety. Not only is the world of Marbury one of utter rage and violence and desolateness, the world that Jack lives in “here” and where he could have been the victim of someone like Freddie Horvath is seriously disturbed as well. Yet, the most obvious thing fucking up the cat’s reading experience came from Jack’s mind. Jack’s the main focalizer of the story and we’re definitely getting his story in the most un-straightforward way. For the most part we get the story through his first person narrative, but at some points he refers to himself in the third person and his narration becomes so disjointed that it is really indicative of his bizarre state of mind and his ever escalating lapse into a mental wasteland, and it left this reader wondering how much of what I was reading that’s going on in Marbury was “real” and how much was actually Jack’s coping with a very traumatic experience.

The cat doesn’t what to go into authorial intent too much – plus I haven’t read the sequel Passenger yet – but Andrew Smith lifts a little bit of the veil in a Q&A with Publisher’s Weekly: “In writing the story though I never for a moment entertained the possibility that what was happening to Jack wasn’t real. I always wrote, from my perspective, that everything that was happening to him was absolutely real.” If that really is the case, then it will be interesting to see how and why Seth’s linked to Jack, whether Henry Hewitt will make another appearance and whether there’s more to Nickie than we’ve seen so far… Even though The Marbury Lens reading experience inspired negative emotions, it’s intriguing and enticing enough to make me want to read the sequel. That is the strength of a true author.

The Marbury Lens is the type of book that will split its readership in half: it will have the most ardent lovers who will hail Andrew Smith as one of the most promising visionary authors today, but at the same time it will have the most zealous haters who can’t get past the darkness of this true horror story. The reasons for these strong emotions, though, might not even be all that disparate. The Marbury Lens is definitely a book that delves so deep into the darkest corners of the human psyche – corners that one reader will acknowledge truly exist – that it’s both scary and alluring to read about. Other readers will just abhor these dark corners so much that they can’t get past those nauseating feelings they get and will not even acknowledge how deeply different this type of book is from other psychological sci fi. Is it really sci fi even? Yes, in part, I mean seriously: glasses that show you a different world? Seems pretty far out to me! But also: no not really, because we don’t exactly know how much of everything is “real” in the world of the book, or just real in the mind of the protagonist(s), and as such it is more of a psychological thriller than a sci-fi fantasy horror tale…  Po-ta-to, po-tah-to…

The Marbury Lens is a book that divides, for sure, but all props go to Andrew Smith for attempting a whole different type of thing here. However, to be truly honest, The Marbury Lens does feel incomplete (the how and why or raison d’être, if you will, of Marbury *if* it’s an actual place, for one) and considering that it’s only the first part in a series of books can only be a part of the explanation. It also feels like Smith bit off more than he could chew. What The Marbury Lens really lacks at this point in the narration is a sense of cohesion, something to ground everything. This of course is something the cat hopes to get in the sequel…

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28 07 2013
In the path of falling objects (by Andrew Smith) | Ringo the Cat's Blog

[…] Winger is one of the best contemporary YA novels, if not the best contemporary YA novel, of 2013. The Marbury Lens and Passenger are creepy sci-fi/horror genre-benders. And here he’s serving up a (historical) […]

17 08 2013
Stick (by Andrew Smith) | Ringo the Cat's Blog

[…] sums it up: “things don’t make people the way they are…they just are.” And in The Marbury Lens Smith does offer us a deeper insight into how people get screwed up, of course, and it’s actually […]

22 12 2013
The year 2013 in reading | Ringo the Cat's Blog

[…] Andrew Smith, no question about it… I read all his 6 published books in 2013, starting with The Marbury Lens in February and ending with (his debut) Ghost Medicine in October. An absolutely highpoint was […]

19 01 2014
Scowler (by Daniel Kraus): to horror or not to horror. | Ringo the Cat's Blog

[…] dare to go. For anyone who likes Rick Yancey’s Monstrumologist series* and Andrew Smith’s The Marbury Lens and Passenger, Daniel Kraus’ work is a must […]

22 04 2014
The Waking Dark (by Robin Wasserman) | Ringo the Cat's Blog

[…] doesn’t shake your bones enough, try Daniel Kraus’s Rotters and Scowler or Andrew Smith’s The Marbury Lens and […]

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