I enjoyed this novel, but it took a while for it to approach the tension of Goodhouse, another novel about unfairly institutionalised adolescents, or the hope for the impossible of Bel Canto. In the final third, with some surprisingly satisfying twists and turns, Toby learns compassion, but I wondered, despite my satisfaction with other novels for adults with adolescent protagonists, if this one might actually be YA.
Thanks to Gollancz for my proof copy.
Although the countries involved are never named, and the narrative differs in places from the recent history with which we are all familiar, Real Monsters picks up from where Before, During, After leaves off. For a while, I wasn’t sure if the narrators’ reference to the enemy as monsters was intended to be taken metaphorically, until Danny tells us (p78):
You see, son when they first sent us out here no one really had any idea about the kind of threats we faced. Still don’t. Of course the papers go on about people getting eaten and shit, but the truth is that even after all this time we still don’t have a goddammed clue what these Monsters are capable of. Might they shoot laser beams out of their eyes? Or fireballs out of their arseholes? Honestly we don’t know.
When he and his friends open fire on three locals off to market with a couple of camels (p91), mistaking them for the most hideous monster their drug-fuelled minds can dream up, I finally caught up with the author’s intention. This is a novel about what philosophers, sociologists and anthropologists call othering and psychoanalysts projection and how wars arise from our attempts to externalise and control the monsters that reside within us all. It’s an ambitious premise and, although a bit too unsubtle for my liking, I applaud the author for tackling it for his debut novel and Legend Press for publishing it.