I’m not sure where to start with this book, because revealing too much would definitely spoil certain points in the story for a new reader. I’ll just start by saying that The Last Days of Jack Sparks, by Jason Arnopp, is fantastic. It is hilarious, frustrating, irritating and heartbreaking. If you enjoyed John Dies at the End by David Wong, you’re probably going to love this. Be cautious though; while John Dies at the End is hilarious the whole way through, Jack Sparks will upset you.
The meta-fictional approach is an interesting one. Jason Arnopp has created an entire mythology surrounding Jack Sparks. There is a website in conjunction with the book, and it’s all maintained and curated in his name. There are contributions throughout the novel from his brother, notes to his editor and communications with his agent; they all provide a realistic grounding to the book, a convincing counterweight that breathe life into Jack and his world. I found the whole idea enthralling. It blurs the lines between fiction and reality. I first heard about the book when I saw a tweet by Orbit Books linking to an extract of an email chain between Sparks and his agent. The entries by Sparks to his battered and long-suffering agent drip with bravado and arrogance, and as soon as I saw it I knew that this was something special.
Jack Sparks is exactly as you’d expect. He is a rock star journalist turned novelist, convinced of his own genius and terminally self-absorbed. He considers himself close friends to the likes of Dawkins and a rival to Theroux. He produces, accumulates and believes in his own hype. He is obsessed with his public persona, fused at a molecular level to social media and relishes the chance to name drop. This makes him insufferable, but also hilarious. We all know someone like Sparks, but rather than being just another delusional idiot, he is a successful and acclaimed delusional idiot; Sparks is a horrible person. He is so stubborn and narrow-minded that I read some sections in disbelief, but herein lays the insidious hold Arnopp weaves around the reader. I could not put this book down. No matter how detestable Sparks is, or how catastrophic things become, you are compelled to keep reading. You need to know what happens next, and shockingly, you wish Sparks well. I could not bring myself to hate him even though the guy gives you ample reason to.
Not only is it funny and infuriating, the book is genuinely creepy. It is a book on the supernatural that I actually found unsettling. The last time I experienced that sensation was when I read House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski. I won’t go into it too much because I don’t want to ruin it, but I was impressed with how Arnopp dealt with the supernatural, and how he built tension and dread. The second half of the book is where the trepidation really intensifies; it is a very different book by this stage. It all starts with an exorcism and a creepy video posted on Sparks’ own YouTube page, a video that nobody but he, the account holder, should have been able to post. The video itself is fantastically creepy, but so is the exorcism. These begin an inexorable and unnerving downward spiral for Sparks, as we delve into the who, what, when, where, and why of things.
Arnopp clearly loves playing an audience; there is a great deal of satisfaction and relish in teasing the reader with salient and provocative details. He knows when he is weaving a tale that will capture the attention and imagination of an audience. It has been a while since I’ve read a book that was this hard to put down. It felt like I would miss something if I did, that it would move on without me. This is one of those books you will read into the deep dark of night, despite the fact that you’ll be getting ready for work in a few hours. It will be worth it. Even if you end up sleeping with a lamp on. This was a fantastic book. It was one of the best and most entertaining books on the supernatural I’ve read in a long time. Avoid spoilers and go in blind for the best experience, it really is at its best this way.