Sunday, 6 October 2013
Hyde by Lauren Stewart
Published by: Off the Hook Publishing (Independent)
Genre: Fantasy (Adult)
The book starts with a prologue. Sixteen year old Mitchell Turner and his sister witnesses the death of his mother by a monster they know only too well. When it turns on them Mitch manages to stop it by hitting it repeatedly with a baseball bat. As the monster falls it slowly morphs into his father.
Fifteen years later Mitch is an attractive and wealthy man running a successful business. But Mitch has a dark secret. Like his father, a monster lives in him and was awakened around the time his father died. Fortunately, with the help of his sister, Shelly, and his loyal personal assistant, Jolie, he has learned to keep it under control. Tragically, Shelly dies under suspicious circumstances and Mitch is experiencing both grief and guilt (as he suspects Hyde, the monster in him, is responsible.).
One morning, a young woman called Eden wakes up next to Mitch in his bed. They are both naked so clearly their bodies have become acquainted with each other. The problem is Eden has no recollection of it happening, she has no idea who Mitch is or how she came be be there.
Mitch knows what he is and he has learned over the years to control Hyde. As long as he behaves like a jerk to people around him, is callous, insulting, selfish etc., Hyde is appeased. Whenever he shows signs of softening, acts of kindness or caring to others, Hyde tries to take him over and break free.
Eden has a history of sleepwalking, so when she wakes up in Mitch's bed she is convinced that this is what has happened. Something keeps drawing her to him and, more often than not, when she sleep walks she wakes up sitting outside his house. She struggles to remember what happens when she is sleep walking but she finds a couple of notes telling her that Mitch can help. Mitch arranges for steel bars and a reinforced door to be installed in her apartment to keep her inside the next time she sleep walks, so it is a bit of a shock when she still wakes up outside his door several days later. It turns out Eden isn't a sleep walker, like Mitch a monster lives inside her, too and (ironically) she calls herself Chastity...
Like the title suggests this book is an adaptation of the novella, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson. What I found most interesting about it is that not only are there characters with split personalities but the book itself (the writing) also has a Jekyll and Hyde feel to it. On the one hand, it is an intriguing page-turner of a novel with a great premise and on the other hand, as well as a weak plot, it has a nasty undertone that left me uncomfortable and unsure whether it was even okay to like it.
Jekyll may have the upper hand in the story, but Hyde dominates the story-telling.
The 'Hyde' side:
(1) The central plot: If you are looking for a story similar to the original Jekyll and Hyde, chances are this book will be a let-down. It more resembles a love story of the 50 Shades Trilogy variety. With all the bad that is implied about Hyde and Chastity, mostly these so-called monsters spend their time getting naked, talking dirty and trying to entice the other (in their Jekyll form) to have kinky sex with them. Okay it's dark behaviour but hardly monstrous.
Eden and Mitch are too busy rubbing each other the wrong way to pay attention to the crucial stuff. Why are notes left for Eden from a third party telling her Mitch can help her? Who wrote them? How did Eden break through a wall to escape her apartment? How come her room mate, Carter, didn't hear her breaking through the wall? (He is on medication is not an acceptable answer.) Who has the power to stop the police investigating Mitch's sister's murder? Who would want to? Is it a coincidence that both Hyde and Chastity were present on the night Shelly died? Admittedly, some of these questions do enter Mitch's mind, but they exit it again soon after. You can't help but come to the conclusion he's not the sharpest tool in the box. Eden cannot be relied upon to do the thinking because clearly this is not her role (see below for clarification).
(2) The nasty undertone: Eden's 'Hyde', Chastity, has a tendency to behave in a way that is at best embarrassing and at worst demeaning and humiliating not just to Eden but to women in general. That said, Eden's behaviour (her determination to behave like a nun) and her back story does justify Chastity's (as uncomfortable as it may read). But then Eden is often sexually objectified as well. There are a few scenes where she gets wet for the sole purpose of allowing her clothes to cling and her nipples to show through or for her to have to remove them, all for Mitch's (and sometimes Carter's) benefit. Whether she is Eden or Chastity, more often than not, by the end of the chapter, she ends up shedding her clothes.
When she is not being a prop, the other female character in the novel, Mitch's PA Jolie, is also a sex object. It is one thing to have Mitch regard her as one (after all this is justified by his need to be a bastard to everyone in order to keep Hyde under control). The problem is, Jolie actually chooses to behave like one. She does throw herself at every man she comes into contact with and she does use sex as a weapon to manipulate men to get what she wants.
It was hard to ignore the nasty aftertaste of misogyny and this left me uncomfortable.
(3) The dodgy story-telling:
(a) You know that thing you get in Hollywood action movies when the leading character constantly spouts one-liners and sarcastic retorts? Mitch does that a lot. E.g. To Eden and Carter who turn up at his house unexpectedly while he is having a party. "Fine. Come in.. but you can only have two hor d'oeuvres a piece, and keep your mitts off the shrimp puffs. They're for my paying clients.
(b) It contains the sort of prose I'm thinking any editor worth her/his salt would revise (or delete). E.g. This is Mitch's attempt at saving Eden from the judgmental eyes of the party guests after she trips and falls in his pool "Anyone know a good mason? I need to have that patio leveled." Ignoring their muttered replies he strode into the house, wondering what the soggy girl's next trick would be.
(c)You know how teenagers are when they first discover sarcasm? It's constant and annoying but we let them off the hook because it's all a part of growing up. Eden is 23 years old and she still uses juvenile sarcasm. E.g. On receiving a threat from Mitch: How do you respond to a threat like that? Should I send a 'thanks for warning card? A fruit basket? On reading Mitch's note suggesting she wasn't a reader of books: Okay, now that is just offensive. He was messing with her and he thought she was borderline illiterate. "Gee, thanks," she said to the post-it.
All of the above is designed to amuse the reader. But the attempt at humour fails most of the time. An example of it working however is during that pool scene when Eden came out with her clothes clinging to her. Mitch thought She looked like a wet dog. Like a gorgeous wet dog.... But are we laughing with or at?
I found it heavy on titillation and the plot lacking in rigour. Also, it is supposed to be an urban fantasy but there is no evidence to suggest this is the case; the writing should evoke the city it is taking place in, otherwise what's the point of calling it urban?
The 'Jekyll' side:
(1) The premise: Two people discover that they share a common secret. They are both cursed in a way that only each other can understand. They are both unsure of what their evil sides are capable of (murder?) Mitch, although reluctant at first, tries to help Eden control her bad side.
(2) The dramatic irony: There is a third party involved, known as 'The Clinic', controlling what is happening to both Mitch and Eden. There are hints to suggest how the third party is involved but it is shrouded in mystery, which keeps you guessing and intrigued.
(3) The backstory: The reader gets to know a bit about both Mitch and Eden's histories and, especially in Eden's case, this serves as clarification as to why she and Chastity behave in the extreme way they do.
(4) "The climax:" The scene when Mitch finally lets down his guard and gives in to Eden is nicely done (if a little too long). He is mindful of her past experiences and he turns out to be a tender and considerate lover. It explores female virginity in a way not often looked at: focusing on the significance of the emotional rather than the physical.
It isn't boring (if a lot longer than it needs to be) and one could argue it is thought-provoking.
For an indie book, Hyde is doing very well in terms of popularity (average score 4 out of 5 on Goodreads with over 790 ratings). It is the first of a trilogy but the first instalment was quite enough for me.