Entering the world of book blogging and a Twitter life centred entirely on books has introduced me to lots of brilliant books, for which I will be eternally grateful; it has also meant, however, that I have often already read other people’s views on a book before reading it myself, which is not always the best plan. I don’t tend to read reviews of books I haven’t read, but even the occasional 140 character response on Twitter can give me preconceptions about a novel that are hard to shake off.
So it’s a real treat when I manage to read a book which I haven’t heard anything about. I must have found Perfect Days by Raphael Montes (translated from the Portuguese by Alison Entrekin) somewhere online, although I can’t remember where or what was said about it. The summary on the inside of the jacket does a much better job of explaining the plot than I would, so I’ll shove it in here:
Teo, a medical student, meets Clarice at a party. Teo doesn’t really like people, they’re too messy, but he immediately realises that he and Clarice are meant to be together. And if Clarice doesn’t accept that? Well, they just need to spend some time together, and she’ll come to realise that too.
And yes, he has bought handcuffs and yes, he has taken her prisoner and yes, he is lying to her mother and to his mother and to the people at the hotel he’s keeping her at, but it’s all for her own good.
She’ll understand. She’ll fall in love. She’ll settle down and be his loving wife.
Perfect Days is as gloriously and horrifyingly demented as this makes it sound. Teo is a true creep, shopping around for gags and handcuffs in a sex shop, shoving Clarice in a suitcase and keeping her sedated. We initially meet him in an anatomy lesson, enjoying the company of a corpse far too much, and this first impression is an entirely accurate one. When Teo meets Clarice, he fixates on her quickly, forming an opinion which the reader can clearly see is flawed; Clarice is impulsive, selfish and a free spirit, rather than the wife-to-be Teo envisages her as.
It’s really hard to explain why a creepy book about a stalker who kidnaps and does awful things to a young woman is such compulsive reading; part of the reason is Montes’ assured use of bathos, with Teo’s vacillating emotions forming an erratic kind of humour. The following juxtaposition of the sublime and the horrific is a perfect example:
“It was a lovely fun day, set against the bucolic backdrop of Teresépolis.
He gagged and handcuffed her and went to reception to get some cards.”
The narrative is third person, but we’re very much thrust into Teo’s mindset; it is consequently completely apparent to the reader when Teo starts to lose track of what’s real and what he’s made up to cover his tracks. This immersion in the mind of a psychopath is basically terrifying but also means we can fully witness the extent of his madness: something that everyone except Clarice struggles to appreciate. Since finishing the book, I’ve thought quite a lot about whether it’s okay to enjoy reading something with such disturbing themes, but I think it’s this focus on Teo’s obviously deranged mindset that makes this work; there’s no point when we’re meant to sympathise with him and, as his actions become increasingly abhorrent, our horror multiplies.
I also really enjoyed reading something set in a country that wasn’t Britain or the USA, nations which seem to account for most of my reading. Brazil provides the setting here, with a number of different locations providing a kind of exoticism which gave some welcome variety to my reading (although, if you’re planning on going to the Olympics this summer, you might want to save this book for when you get home).
I found Perfect Days to be a brilliant read; it achieves its goals of being both creepy and darkly comic in a way which, say, Gone Girl did not, in my view (mainly because I bloody hated Gone Girl) and is completely gripping throughout. The final quarter of the book made me wince more than once, as Teo’s mania becomes something else entirely, and the final sentence is a work of genius; I imagine it is quite difficult to end a book like this without tying things up too neatly or creating too bleak a conclusion, but Montes truly makes the money shot here. I really, really recommend this book; the writing is brilliant and it’s both clever and entertaining (in, obviously, the weirdest way possible).