In an early draft of this review, of this sentence in fact, I used the word decadent to try to describe Brite’s writing in Exquisite Corpse. Why that word? Because I really wanted to be fair to a text that has been considered by many since its 1996 publication as being an extremely violent, gruesome, torture-porn outing in a world of violence, depravity and death.
Everything in the book is amplified to giddy and distressing heights, including extremely detailed descriptions of minutiae that might normally escape the usual horror author’s pen, but which are here stretched to the fullest and most graphic detail.
And given that Brite is a very talented writer, and the descriptions quite vivid, you might want to make sure that if you’re in the smallest part squeamish you possibly consider giving this one a miss. It’s not surprising that Brite is one of that group of authors labelled as being of the splatterpunk water, thanks in no small part to this controversial work.
With the book’s opening we are introduced via a successfully implemented first-person narrative to Andrew Compton, a serial killer locked up in a U.K. prison. We get to see Compton as he’s in the process of faking his death in order to pull off an escape from detention, in order to continue a catalogue of killings he had begun some time before.
It doesn’t take more than a page before Brite stamps this work with her distinctive mark, and I think for most readers the first few pages, maybe chapters for braver/horror-readers amongst the audience, will mark the point as to whether or not they’ll continue with this work. Yes, it really is that powerful, or possibly a more apt word to use would be gruesome.
As Compton sallies forth in his depraved new world the book takes a switch to New Orleans, where the wealthy, weird and surreal Jay Byrne takes his pleasures from similarly grotesque slaughter of the young men that he picks up in the bars, clubs and cafes of the town’s quarters.
It’s not long before the two cross paths, and a casual meet and greet in a bar takes a turn for the better as the two realise they’re kindred spirits. Before you know it the pair are caught up, quite literally, in a blood-lust-fuelled killing rampage.
The parallel story of prospective victim Tran adds elements of interest and normality to contrast all of this blood bath, but also then serves to remind the reader just how dark and depraved this tale really does go. The devil really is in the details here, and there are lots of them.
It’s a messy book, in terms of the volumes of bodily fluid flying around, and the strong subject matter being handled: brutal murder, torture and fluent and wanton disregard for human life. These aspects make for some often uncomfortable reading, yet the brilliant and uncanny talent that is Brite’s writing ability make it harder to dislike. However, for this reader the subject matter did make it really hard to relax into the book, and it was just too intense, and the brutality too constant and severe for my liking.
I had similar reactions when I watched the film Hostel with friends one evening, none of us aware of how cruel and merciless that film was to be. The large bag of crisps that had been brought by someone to enjoy with the film stayed unopened throughout: no one had the stomach to eat whilst such gore and suffering was being displayed on screen. When reading Exquisite Corpse I have to say similar feeling of disgusted shock lingered whilst reading. Despite the beauty of Brite’s composition, the accompanying blood-spatter here was alas too much.
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