There comes a point while reading Apocalypse Now Now – and it’s roughly the halfway point – when you’re presented with a scene of such graphic and perverted gruesomeness that you actually feel you brain trying to shut down in order to save itself from having to picture what’s on the page.
Too late. You’ve already unpacked the words and extrapolated them, and now your brain must wrestle with the revolting image of a zombie bondage strip club – where they literally strip to the bone – as you silently dry-heave WTF!?s and all the other passengers in the carriage stare at you suspiciously.
Such an experience is probably a testament to Cape Town author Charlie Human’s formidable imagination, which is splattered over every page with the verbal enthusiasm that you expect from a first-time author. Human paints scenes and characters vividly, and with a clear desire to leave an impression on the reader as he boldly thrusts the story of 16 year old pornography peddler Baxter Zevchenko at us. For when Baxter’s girlfriend Esmé is kidnapped he sets out to find her with the aid of a paranormal bounty hunter named Ronin, and in doing so is rapidly pulled into the supernatural underbelly of Cape Town.
Such a story outline is oversimplification akin to that of describing blood as ‘a liquid’, but we don’t have space to cram in the nightmarish visions, the murderer on the loose, cryptozoological bestiality porn (yep, you read it right), folklore aplenty, and a giant Mantis. There’s gallons of often challenging content, and we use that word at it’s most euphemistic, and the unflinching way it’s presented means it’ll be an acquired taste to those without a strong stomach for horror or precocious teenage twattery.
In much the same way as Paul Cornell did in London Falling, Apocalypse Now Now shows the supernatural living uneasily in the city shadows. But Cape Town is given a far more jaundiced view through the eyes of this disillusioned South African 21st century Holden Caulfield, and Human’s use of African superstition and his own bizarre creatures makes it a far more exotic and dangerous place.
It’s a slog before we get there. The detailed description of school gangs and the smothering threat of playground violence isn’t as interesting as Human seems to believe it will be and Baxter’s teenage ego aggravates rather than attracts us into its world, and early on there’s an over reliance on similes, powerful and imaginative though they are. You can only read ‘like a…’ so many times before you begin to feel weary and aggravated, like a toddler wearing brick shoes (see?).
Yet this is an attention-grabbing debut novel and, whether it’s for the right or wrong reasons, certainly one you won’t forget reading in a hurry.
Published on Thursday 8 August 2013 by Century.
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