Book Review for “Blueeyedboy” by Joanne Harris.
Summary: “Once there was a widow with three sons, and their names were Black, Brown and Blue. Black was the eldest; moody and aggressive. Brown was the middle child, timid and dull. But Blue was his mother’s favourite. And he was a murderer. Blueeyedboy is the brilliant new novel from Joanne Harris: a dark and intricately plotted tale of a poisonously dysfunctional family, a blind child prodigy, and a serial murderer who is not who he seems. Told through posts on a webjournal called badguysrock, this is a thriller that makes creative use of all the multiple personalities, disguise and mind games that are offered by playing out a life on the internet.”
Age: Adult; Genres: Fiction; Psychological Thriller; Settings: Contemporary; UK – Malbry (fictional), Yorkshire; Online; Other Categories: Novel, Series – Malbry #3.
This novel is the third (and I assume, the last) book in Harris’ Malbry series, all of which also include at least some reference to the boy’s school St. Oswald’s located in this fictional town. Personally, since I’m not into fantasy or magical elements in my books these days, I found her first book in this series, “Gentlemen and Players” to be mind-blowingly fascinating. However, I’m not always up to date on series, yet I was able to discover that she had a sequel to that book, “A Different Class.” That too was really good and when I realized that there was yet another book in the series, I had to get it and read it (especially after Harris did my alternative author interview, so graciously)! Okay, to be honest, this one had less mind-blowing stuff in it than the first book, but kudos to Harris for bringing these books into the 21st century with it all being told as online entries. Sounds original, right? Well… she wasn’t the first to have whole book taking place online, but in 2010 when this was first published, it was still very unique.
What I enjoy about Harris is how her writing is so subtle as to feel almost gentle, but with such carefully crafted undercurrents of evil that you feel like these essentially nasty characters are sympathetic, which is, if you ask me, nothing short of genius. How she gets us to feel for these people, even as we know we should probably hate them, if not be afraid of them, is a type of artistry that few can pull off. However, if I have one complaint about this book, it would be that there aren’t quite enough innocent people around to balance out all of the malevolent ones. Mind you, you’ll start out thinking one character is one way and then Harris will turn on you and change things up. That too is something Harris is adapt in doing, in all her books I’ve read, to be honest (well, except for “Chocolat,” where things are pretty straightforward for most of the main protagonists).
As for world building with the fictional village of Malbry, I swear I could see the neighborhoods and streets so vividly I thought it might have been a real one I’d driven through while on my travels in Yorkshire. Add to this how Harris develops her characters, revealing a measured number of things about each of the major and minor protagonists (many of whom are actually antagonists) at the type of pace that teases you along, is another well-known Harris talent. This, of course, brings me to how Harris works her out and unveils her plot. If I may be so bold, of the three Malbry books, I think this one is the weakest of the three in this area. Perhaps that’s because we know at the outset that we’re reading about a serial killer. Mind you, when the “gotcha” moment happens, it does take your breath away for a moment.
Getting back to this book being told through posts on a website, if you’ve looked at my “About Me” page, you’ll know that back in the mid-90s I was heavily involved in online forums, including ones where you could post your creative writing for feedback. While Harris called her platform for this book a “webjournal,” this seems like a hybrid of what I used (usenet) and today’s Reddit. That worked very well for me, and it was totally believable that the active members of her ‘badguysrock’ group posted things where the lines between reality and fiction were clearly blurred (oxymoron, I know, but it is appropriate). I’m only unsure about the headings of these posts. I’ve never seen posts where there are fill-in fields labeled “status,” “mood,” or “listening to.” But this is just a technicality, and there might be platforms they have such things.
Overall, this is a very powerful novel, and one that is a very nice ending to the Malbry series, bringing it up to date in its own enigmatic way. And yes, enigmatic is the best word, since not one of the characters here is completely straight forward, which I think was Harris’ intention. Obviously, I’m highly recommending this book – the whole series, in fact – and I believe this book deserves a very healthy four and a half stars out of five.
PS: Harris has another St. Oswald’s novel coming out in early August, called “A Narrow Door” and I’m putting it on my wish list now!
“Blueeyedboy” by Joanne Harris is available (via the following affiliate links) from Amazon, The Book Depository (free worldwide delivery), Foyles, Waterstones, WHSmith, Wordery, Walmart (Kobo) US (eBooks and audiobooks), the website eBooks.com, iTunes (iBooks and audiobooks), new or used from Alibris, used from Better World Books (promoting libraries and world literary), as well as from as well as from Bookshop.org and UK.Bookshop (to support independent bookshops, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic) or an IndieBound store near you.