It was no secret that journalist Jack Sparks had been researching the occult for his new book. No stranger to controversy, he’d already triggered a furious Twitter storm by mocking an exorcism he witnessed.
Then there was that video: forty seconds of chilling footage that Jack repeatedly claimed was not of his making, yet was posted from his own YouTube account.
The Last Days of Jack Sparks is an astonishingly unusual novel. The tagline, ‘Jack Sparks died while writing this book’, draws you in immediately, while the gimmick of this being an actual book by a deceased journalist is given authenticity (while never attempting to actually fool you), by the inclusion of a foreword and afterword by Jack’s brother Alistair.
This is best described as a thriller-horror-comedy-action book, which gives you some idea and none at all of what it’s about. When Jack openly ridicules the Catholic church and a young teenager during an exorcism, he is catapulted into a sequence of events over which he has very little control, and Jason Arnopp cleverly feeds us the information through the eyes of Jack. Because this is a book he is writing, we get all of his biases and opinions. By killing off Jack and leaving Alistair to finish the book, we are treated not only to Jack’s ‘first-hand account’, but also to other eyewitness accounts that shed light on the story in a different way. Interviews, diary entries, transcripts; they are all interwoven throughout the main story to show Jack up as not always the most reliable of narrators (though frankly how far we can trust, or like, Alistair, is also in question).
It’s a fascinating look at the way that we regard ourselves and others in modern society, and how big a part social media plays in that. Jack’s not the most likable man in the world, and it took until at least halfway through before I started to have any real sympathy for him. This is partly his own fault; as the narrator he withholds a lot from the reader, and most of what he does share shows him up as an arrogant idiot.
It’s an utterly immersive story that twists and turns and keeps you on the edge of your seat, but does so with humour and a sardonic look at the world. It’s also an original idea; you won’t read too many books like this, and if you do, they’ll be hard pushed to match it for suspense and hilarity.
The Last Days of Jack Sparks by Jason Arnopp
First published: July 2016
Review copy provided by publisher