TW: Blood, gore, self-harm, drug abuse
“How I wish Jack had never attended that exorcism.
How I wish he had never laid eyes on that YouTube video.
Rest in peace, my brother, and please know that I forgive you.”
Overall rating: 4 books out of 5
Three things I love: found footage, multi-media texts and unreliable narrators. This book ticked all three boxes. The Last Days of Jack Sparks presents itself as a book written and originally titled ‘Jacks Sparks on the Supernatural’ whose author died before its completion. Jack Sparks is, in his own not-so-humble opinion, a celebrity in the world of documentary writing. After his previous book Jack Sparks on Drugs landed him in rehab, and in trouble with his publisher, Jack seeks to regain his own relevance by writing a cynic’s take on the supernatural starting with his own account of the exorcism of a young girl.
During which, he laughs.
‘Hey there,’ calls Maria, in English. ‘Hey, Jack Sparks.’
Except her voice doesn’t come from the ambulance. It comes from the opposite direction. It comes from Translator Tony, who is approaching his own car. As if on cue, he spins around to face me, a dazed puppet, his centre of gravity awry.
His mouth opens and continues to move as Maria’s voice comes out of him.
‘Enjoy your journey,’ he says. Or rather, Maria says it. His mouth, but her voice.
Jack is unreliable narrator to the extreme, his accounts often differ wildly from those of the other person in a given scenario. He will state he emailed once, another person will say he was persistent, he will say he was calm, another will say he was manic. He even lies about his roommate’s hair colour because, on the page, red is more dramatic than brown. From the first page this is a novel that tells you not to believe a word this guy says even as he tells you everything is true.
He’s also an asshole.
Jack’s narrative voice annoyed me, enough to make parts of the book difficult to read because he was so conceited and irritating. I understand that this is kind of the point, he’s a self-centred narcissist who writes books about himself with confidence that they will sell because, hey, they’re by Jack Sparks, but my gut response to this sort of asshole is to immediately ignore them – not read their books. We all know a Jack. I mean:
“The Hollywood Paranormals strike me as extremely self-centred. They want everything to go their way. They want everything to play out according to their own petty little sensibilities, in their own microcosm.
They’re going to have to learn to accommodate different points of view.
I rest my case.
This book combines Jack’s own words with transcripts of interviews and voicemails, emails and texts to tell through these wildly different accounts a coherent tale of Jack’s final days. A mysterious video shows up on his youtube channel, he travels the globe trying to prove wrong the beliefs of paranormal investigators and spiritualists, and it becomes harder and harder to explain away strange occurrences as chance, or the forced connections of an overactive mind.
“Even as a kid, though, I thought of ghosts as a fun idea rather than something to be afraid of. One day, Alistair locked me in a pitch-black room in the middle of the house. I just stood silently in the darkness, laughing to myself, until he let me out looking disappointed. (1)
Footnote: (1) This last sentence is untrue, as will become apparent later – Alistair”
The character work in this novel is exceptionally well done – specifically the relationship between Jack and his brother Alistair who, while they do not speak directly throughout the book, offer contrasting views of the same events and relationships to the point where we as readers are not sure in places who to believe. Was Alistair cruel as a child? Is Jack just a drug-addled narcissist whose cocaine habit has changed how he remembers his life? I was very impressed with how much we got about this relationship simply through the prologue, epilogue and a few footnotes.
“Bad things happened since I last wrote.
Blood all over these sheets.
Blood all over me.
I need help.”
This book gets gory, there’s definitely a body count involved, and it’s made apparent from the first page that by the time you close the book in the end Jack Sparks will be dead. It also deals quite heavily with drug abuse, and has scenes of self-harm that may be upsetting. I liked that the danger was real, this wasn’t a haunted house ride where the ghosts will pop up and scare you but cannot touch you. Despite the fact that Jack is undeniably a dick, you do feel sorry for him because if this stuff started happening to me the demon wouldn’t even have a chance to kill me, I’d just straight up die of fright. I would be literally no fun to haunt, because I’d give up waaaaaay too easily.
“I extend my heartfelt gratitude and condolences to the families of the deceased, who mostly gave permission for their loved ones’ true identities to be used. Other names have been changed. Believe me, the decision to publish Jack Sparks on the Supernatural in its entirely uncensored form was in no way taken lightly, and I know how very difficult it is for the bereaved to read accounts of such horrendous events.”
I won’t say anything, but the way the threads came together to form a coherent image at the end gave this book a whole extra star. Up until the last page it was hovering between 3 and 4 for me, then I finished it and went damn that’s clever and boom, 4 stars. We would expect the modern technologies and conveniences of Jack’s life to expel the shadows around him and reveal what is really there. This is a book that takes the vanity and self-righteousness of its characters and uses those traits to tear them apart. Jack believes in fact, not hauntings, but the forces following him around do not care.