"The String Diaries" Book Review
Written by Karin Crighton
Published by Mullholland Books
Written by Stephen Lloyd Jones
2014, 432 pages, Fiction
Released on July 1st, 2014
The long-living terror known as Jakab began stalking Hannah’s family generations before she was born, but it is up to her to stop it. Her husband gravely injured, she is her daughter’s only hope to get away from the creature that can take anyone’s form, and then take their life. Holed up in a deserted farmhouse in the Welsh countryside with a few strangers that claim to be allies, Hannah plans to destroy Jakab once and for all. But is everyone who they claim to be?
The String Diaries is a great premise; it’s been done a few times before but this It Follows-esque treatment is intense. The reader never knows when Jakab will appear, but no matter what, you know he’s coming. Suspecting everyone and everything is part of the fun of the book. Where Stephen Lloyd Jones’ debut novel loses traction is in repetition; both with word choice and characterization.
The terms “eyes” and “flared” followed by various emotions seemed to pop up every other page, and when he finds a phrase he likes (scraping hair back into a ponytail or off the face), it comes back within just a few pages. It’s a bit careless of the editor to not catch, but again String Diaries is his first novel and most first novels have this overly explanative feel. Jones doesn’t quite have the confidence that we’ll follow what Hannah is feeling without telling us every moment, but he can. He sets the stakes incredibly high; everything is on the line from the very first page. We’re on board, dude.
If not given the window to Hannah’s mental process, I’d probably have liked her more. Her self-doubt and self-pitying are not my cup of tea. She so frequently worries what will happen if she loses her husband Nate or daughter Leah that I’m not sure she’s paying attention to what’s happening. When tragedy strikes, she folds like a paper doll and while I understand her pain, her complete dissolve into temporary alcoholism is clichéd and irritating. I find it hard to believe that such a devoted mother would do something so destructive. Remember this guy? That’s what you do when your child is in danger. You deny all your own shortcomings and go from a khaki-and-polo-shirt suburbanite to a superhero. You don’t stop and think about it, you just do it. Hannah’s whining becomes unrealistic the truer the danger becomes.
I don’t particularly care for most of the supporting characters either. Everyone is a little too caricature-like, a little overly dramatic. No one is a real, meat-and-potatoes person. A “good guy” even blames Hannah for checking out after a horrible loss rather than accepting she was in no place to help anyone; this exchange serves melodrama, not the narrative. Those that show up to help Hannah seem to blend into one another, and those that show up to use her are interchangeable as well. Her daughter even suffers from this banality. She has little presence until the climax, at which point she blames herself for what’s happened. That doesn’t sound like a real nine-year-old as much as a romantic interpretation of an angel child in an overly sentimental love story. Which is exactly what String Diaries is right now instead of the nail-biting thriller it wants to be.
For all that complaining, I do love how well the history of the bad guy is set. We get all the information that led to a young Hungarian boy named Lukcas to lose himself to obsession and murder and be reborn as “Jakab”. Watching his misery compound over the years, I felt sorry for him...which quickly passed when he got a taste of his true power. I would have liked even more story from his perspective in the modern era, not just the distant past.
The String Diaries is good for what it is; a new novel by a writer new on the scene. Despite its current pitfalls, I’m interested to see how Jones’ writing evolves as his trilogy continues.