Thursday, June 19, 2014

Review: Black Chalk by Christopher J Yates

Black Chalk by Christopher J. Yates is one interesting ride down memory lane with a character named Jolyon who recounts how his life changed dramatically 14 years earlier. Six friends decide to embark on a game where after a series of rounds, consequences will be given in gradual escalation in order to prevent elimination if one of those rounds are lost. The game is meant to be strictly psychological. A game of the mind. But of course, with all good things, the game costs more than these six can pay, even resulting in an unforeseen death.

It is clear that the game has taken its toll on at least one player. Part of Black Chalk is narrated by a person who has completely lost his marbles. At one time this player was the nucleus to his social circle only to have it all taken away by the game. With the impending reunion of the remaining players, we are taken on a journey to regain strength for this broken player. Their life consists of mnemonics, notes, solitude, whiskey, and fear. Oh we mustn't forget the pills. All this in order to go on day to day without dealing with the guilt of the game.

Black Chalk explores the fragility of friendships, competition, and the human mind. What would you do to win? At some point, the jackpot didn't even matter, it was purely all about winning. Yates had me hooked wanting to see what, and why the narrator was a shell of himself. What could be so damning about this game that it cost so much for so little?

Sadly, my biggest gripe with this novel is that I never found the answer to the question. It seemed like jealousy and bitterness kept something going so long that should have ended long before it did. And sadly, there was no character I ever seemed to really like. The only redeeming characters were the ones who had the courage to walk away.

One other thing I couldn't quite get was the actual game. It's unclear what it is. Is it a mixture of poker? Gin rummy? Go Fish? What? The answer never comes. And the consequences seemed to be performed off-screen, but judging by the story in the story, it tears their lives apart. I don't know.

Ultimately, I really enjoyed reading Christopher J. Yates debut Black Chalk. It's an interesting look into the world of what guilt can do to someone; anyone for that matter. I hope this won't be the last we hear of Yates as I think he's got quite some good writing chops. I won't need any mnemonics to remember to look for any future works by him.  ***

Copy provided by Random House UK via Netgalley

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