"The Venus Complex" Book Review
Written by Barbie Wilde
2012, 232 pages, Fiction
Released on November 1st, 2012
For a very long time, Hannibal Lecter stood alone at the cusp of the Mount Olympus of fictional serial killers. His intellectual prowess and eloquence made him a likeable fellow despite his atrocities. He even surpassed evil deities like Norman Bates and Patrick Bateman. And then something happened I never thought would: a name made its way onto the very short list of amazing fictional killers: Michael Friday. He's the obsessed narrator in Barbie Wilde's debut novel, The Venus Complex.
The Venus Complex kicks off right after art history professor Michael Friday returns home from the hospital after purposefully crashing car in order to kill his cheating wife. To deal with the grief he doesn't feel, a doctor tells him to write things down. He starts a journal and writes about what he did, his deep disenchantment with life, and his ideas about popular culture. The entries show a man who has deconstructed the culture he lives in and has found overwhelming stupidity. As the writing progresses, Michael becomes infatuated with killing and forensic psychologist Dr. Elene Sheppard. The two obsessions meet when he carefully plans out and then executes a series of murders in which he leaves obscure drawings on the bodies of his victims as a signature. The plan works, but there's an element Michael wasn't counting on: Frank, the detective investigating the murders alongside Elene and whom she has a romantic interest in. As Michael's frustrations grow, the plan morphs and the body count increases.
It takes a talented author to pull off a first person narrative without sounding clichéd. Wilde does it, and that's only the beginning. The Venus Complex is written in a brutally honest voice that makes for compulsive reading. The journal entries range in length and tone, so every new page brings a surprise. Also, Michael Friday is racist, judgmental, misogynistic, and unapologetic. Surprisingly, he's also smart, likeable, and sharp. Reading about a heartless serial killer is entertaining. Reading about a heartless serial killer whose views on reality television you wholeheartedly agree with is a superb reading experience that almost never comes along.
While Wilde's smart-yet-unhinged character is definitely one of the main elements making The Venus Complex a must-read, it's really the author's writing chops that help this tome stand out. Although this is purely a horror novel, there are passages that make you laugh, a few that wouldn't be out of place in a critical essay about contemporary television, and some so deliciously vicious, evil, and coldhearted that they place Michael Friday in the spot I mentioned above: right next to Hannibal Lecter.
On top of the things already mentioned, this book packs two more treats. The first is the unflinching sexuality that comes from Michael's desires and, in the most brutal cases, his dreams. Some folks might know Wilde as the female Cenobite in Clive Barker's classic cult horror movie Hellbound: Hellraiser II. If you can imagine what a Cenobite would write when it comes to sex, you won't be too far from what the author does here. The second unexpected treat is the tale's ending, but I'll let you discover that one on your own.
The Venus Complex is a clever, grisly, art-infused, sexually-charged narrative that will keep you turning pages. I apologize, but I simply have to say this: Barbie Wilde's work definitely has some sights to show you.