Written almost a decade ago, this fiendishly tangled thriller presents its unreliable narrator front and centre. From the very first page, we don’t know if Marc Lucas has lost his mind or merely his memory. Bleeding and broken in mind and body, he engages in a desperate chase across Berlin, trying to discover the truth about his predicament – his recent bereavement, his medical condition, the car crash which he almost remembers.
Marc encounters doctors and patients, friends and family and, in his increasingly paranoid and psychotic frame of mind, he can’t tell the difference between those people trying to help him – and the ones trying to hide the bleakest secret. Did he really agree to have his memory wiped? And why does it seem that his dead wife is sending him messages?
Written in rapid chapters that are constructed to form a series of cliff-hangers, the narrative of Splinter asks more questions than it answers at every point in its disjointed, dizzying progression. If you enjoy straightforward stories with a beginning, middle and end presented in roughly that order, then this will not appeal. The timeline skitters back and forth between Marc’s current situation and the past as he recalls it; reality is constantly revised while relationships and events are reinterpreted over and again. It’s similar to the film Memento or the more recent BBC series, Rellik. Every incident is subject to continual reinterpretation.
This can be frustrating as well as gripping, like a Hollywood spy story which has immense forward momentum but little regard for authenticity. Yet there are plenty of clues to be assembled amid the harum-scarum chase-pace of the relentless plot… you just have to spot the relevant details and ignore an ocean of red herrings.
In some regards, Splinter is more like a thought experiment than a typical novel, a weirdly disconcerting late-night ‘what if?’ conversation which plays out on paper. You never really establish any kind of relationship with the characters – they are definitely players on a stage – but the author’s sly presentation and writing style definitely keeps you guessing. There are a couple of strange errors (Marc becomes ‘Luke’ in my ebook edition), and the final revelations inevitably stretch credibility and logic beyond its elastic limit.
Even so, it’s a fun ride and a rapid read. Best devoured in a couple of lengthy sessions. It’s encouraged me to go find more from this author; he certainly kept my attention throughout.
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
Splinter by Sebastian Fitzek is available as an audiobook, ebook or paperback
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