I came in with high expectations for this book after reading a previous Barbie Wilde tale. The excellent Sister Cilice was a highlight of the short story collection Hellbound Hearts, an anthology set in the Hellraiser universe, and filled with weird and wonderful cenobites. I’ll admit I’m a bit of a Hellraiser fanatic. So the fact that Barbie Wilde played one of my favorite cenobites from Hellraiser II, meant she was already in my good graces and thankfully the book lived up to my initial excitement levels.
The tale begins brutally when Professor Michael Friday, discovers his wife is cheating on him and decides to end things permanently for both of them by deliberately driving into a tree. He survives the car crash and something changes in him during his recovery and rehabilitation. He begins having vivid dreams of death and sex (mostly in that order). Michael was an art historian and university lecturer at Syracuse before the accident, but having lost the emotional engagement to life and frustrated by his disconnect from the traditional art that had been his passion, he seeks meaning and purpose and it takes him a while to find it.
The story is told entirely through journal entries from Michael. The journaling was the idea of his therapist to help him vent his anger and frustration. This is one very frustrated man, sickened by pretty much all humanity with the exception of women whom he sees differently. Throughout the journal entries he gives examples of what has enraged and sickened him each day, mostly large issues from AIDS and political corruption, to fundamentalist Christians. For a time it the rage that is the only way that he can feel, dead to all other stimuli, with the exception of his dreams. These dreams are disturbing, erotic and the place where the growing demons in his mind manifest themselves. As the journal entries progress, his detachment and disconnect from society and normal human contact deepens. We follow him on his journey and his descent beyond moral constraints.
Michael finally finds a new purpose in life when he meets, well he doesn’t meet her, let’s say discovers, psychologist Elene on a visit back to his university. Unable to feel confident enough to meet the object of his infatuation, he stalks her and discovers she is an author who has written about serial killers. He finds purpose in his life and feels alive again after deciding to focus his energy into becoming a serial killer. Thus the Venus Project is born. He gets to sexually enjoy his victims and leave his auteur’s mark to arouse the interest of Elene, when she sees an interesting killer working in her own town. Michael’s plan, the Venus Project, begins in earnest. He murders carefully selected women and leaves them in poses from paintings with a Venus connection, complete with quotes and alchemy symbols written on them in marker pen to confuse the authorities. Elene is assigned to help the police with the case and an art expert is needed to help with the investigation, so as part of the grand plan, Michael is recruited and he gets to work with Elene. As they work together and the plot progresses he finds his obsessed image of her as the unblemished Venus, comes in to question.
One of the most striking aspects of the book is the first person narrative in the form of the journal entries. It’s an interesting way to tell the story and it works really well. You’re brought in to the twisted mind of Michael and his dark perspective on the world. The entries where he’s meticulously planning his crimes and his knowledge of police procedures are really fascinating. Every few entries, one will be a rant about a major world issue. Some of the themes of the book are his disgust with politics, religion, wealth and society in general. His rants throughout the book and the passion and focus that he puts in to them brought to mind the way Patrick Bateman in American Psycho would talk about Huey Lewis and the News, or Phil Collins. The major theme though, is that of gender. He has such a distorted view of women, showing no respect except for his chosen Venus, and even that changes. He sees women as weak, no more than helpless prey and sexual objects, and he is driven by the need to dominate, control and possess them. Closely tied to the discussion of gender by author Wilde, is that of sexual violence. There is a great deal of this violence in the book, more of it in his disturbing dreams that drive him, than in reality, but both are shocking. Undoubtedly his issues with women come from his mother and his adulterous ex-wife Angie.
I’ll admit that I was left a little empty by the conclusion, I’d expected something different, it’s certainly not a disappointing ending, just not what I’d expected. His deviation from his Venus Project and transition to a new project for some reason didn’t sit quite right with me. On the whole, this a great read, we’re taken inside a maniac’s head and accompany him through his journey. I look forward to what’s coming next from Barbie Wilde.
Book Cover Blurb:
A man rises out of an abyss of frustration and rage and creates works of art out of destruction, goddesses out of mere dental hygienists and beauty out of death. It’s also about the sickness and obsession that is LOVE. Enter into Michael’s world through the pages of his personal journal, where every diseased thought, disturbing dream, politically incorrect rant and sexually explicit murder highlights his journey from zero to psycho.