Thursday, November 5, 2015

Game Of Consequences

I know I said no more brain draining dark books...but I just finished this book and I need to work through how I feel about it, and this is usually the best way to do it.  The book is called Black Chalk by Christopher J. Yates and I got it 'cause Hubbin had heard about it and told me about it and it sounded interesting.  After finishing it I'm still not sure how I feel about it, so I apologize ahead of time for the potential lack of coherency that may ensue.  But first, as always SPOILERS AHEAD!
The book is written in two ways, a first person, diary style coupled with a traditional third person narrative telling the story.  The diary portions are set in the present, with the narrative telling us the past history...It makes sense I promise.  The bare bones of the story is that 6 people with varying degrees of friendship get together to play a complicated game of consequences overseen by a shadowy organization known as the Game Society.  We meet Chad, a shy American who is at Pitt University in Oxford on a scholarship. He befriends the outgoing Jolyon who seems to attract every person he meets.  Mark is the sleepy scientist, Jack is the jokester.  Emilia is the principled conservative who tries to fix everything.  Cassandra, known as Dee is the free spirit with a hint of macabre.  The six of them interact in different ways with each other, the dynamics causing most of the humaness of the story.  The game, which is the focal point of the story is never fully explained, but is a mix of cards, dice, chance and skill.  It is the consequences of losing this game that are of interest to us.  The premise is depending on how bad you lose you have to draw any number of tasks of varying degrees of difficulty and the loser must perform all of them with the intent of essentially embarrassing the performer of the task. The tasks are all thought up by the members of the group and are specific to each player of the game.  As the game progresses the tasks get harder and harder.  The point is to get people to quit the game and the winner gets a prize of 10,000 pounds, funded by the mysterious Game Society.  Each member must also put in 1,000 pounds of their own money as a deposit with each player getting it back as long as they quit before they are given a task.  If a player earns a task and refuses to perform it they forfeit the deposit.  The game is played, tasks are performed, simple and silly and first with worse and worse tasks being assigned.  As the friendships start to deteriorate and the impacts of the players life start to get worse and worse more people start to drop out.  We end up with Chad and Jolyon as the final two players.  The characters seemed to have switched personalities with Chad becoming braver and more outgoing, and Jolyon starting to succumb to his mental
disorder.  Jolyon wants to quit, but is informed by the Game Society that whoever loses will then have to continue to play another game of their choosing.  Neither player wants to have to deal with the horrors of another twisted game and decide to have the final round 13 years in the future.  The diary portions of the book deal with the present.  Here we see a hermit Jolyon who has resorted to the use of mnemonic devices just to survive.  For example he sets out 6 glasses of water above 3 plates in his hallway so that when he is blocked by them, he remembers to eat and drink water.  He has many of these types of devices, some making more sense then others.  The other thing he is doing is trying to "train" for the final round of the game.  He is assisted in this by the reappearance of Dee, who gives Jolyon some tidbits about the surviving former players of the game (Mark died in an unfortunate accident that involved Jolyon and is part of the reason for Jolyon's mental lapse).  As the reader we get the sense that some of Jolyon's mnemonic's are not exactly the way they should be, taking his well ordered life and making it a mess.  Chad shows up, looking pretty good and the game is played. Chad informs Jolyon that he has actually been in town for a while, and that he and Dee (who he is now married to) have been messing with Jolyon's stuff, adding one more layer to his madness.  Jolyon loses very badly, getting several consequences that he must perform.  Chad however only ends up with one consequence, on that he must do before Jolyon does his.  Jolyon tells Chad to go visit his parents as his consequence, something he vowed to never do.  This is the one thing Chad will not do and he disappears leaving Jolyon as the winner.
Obviously there is a lot more to this story then I can get in a simple synopsis, but at the end I feel like this is the gist of it.  I mentioned before I have mixed feelings about this book and I am trying to figure out why.  In some ways I really liked it.  After I got into it, it turned into a very page turning book.  I wanted to find out what the game was, who the Game Society was, what were everybody's deep dark secrets, all things that the book kept eluding to.  Unfortunately most of this stuff was never really given to us in the book.  The book was mostly about bits and pieces and stuff strung together to make a semblance of a story.  I am not being very coherent here, but I did warn you :-)  Um hmm.  So the appeal of this book is that some of the ideas and execution are very original and the writing kept me interested.  On the other hand, there was not actually a lot of story in this book.  There were lots of little moments, a TON of interactions between the various group members...but not a lot of forward motion on the story.   In fact by the time I was done with the book, I wasn't really clear on what the actual story was at all.  I wanted to know more about the actual game itself, which was supposed to be the center piece of the book.  There were a couple examples of consequences, mostly the ones that had an impact on the group, but I felt that we never got the full flavor of the game.  As far as the characters went they were ok.  I liked Dee the best as she seemed to have the most depth to her, but in general the characters felt like stock representations of a college group.  Which would have been fine if the interactions between the characters had been a bit more original.  I liked Jolyon's mnemonic system, it's something I have never seen before, but again I felt it would have had more of an impact if we had known the history of it.  Chad should have been a cooler character, but again his transformation from shy awkward dude, to super confident game player was never really believable.  Over all I liked the idea of the book and what it could have been better then the actual execution.  This book was written by a first time author, and I will be interested in reading any other books he writes to see if his writing can live up to his fantastic idea's with a little more experience.  I give it 6 out of 10 death poems.  Happy Reading Everybody!

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