Aah, smell that? That’s the intoxicating scent of another book finished and the percolating of a review… Mmmmm, percolating… just hold that thought – coffee run; be right back. <insert Muzak here>
All right, that other tantalising scent is a triple-shot long black (don’t judge me), but back to why we’re here: it’s review time! This is the ninth book I’ve read this year, which means I’m averaging two novels a month – not bad, considering the amount of work-related reading I do. Now, I know I have a couple of other reviews to get to, but I’m writing this one while it’s still very fresh in my mind.
Right then, onto Innocence. I was an avid reader of Dean Koontz as a teenager and through my twenties, but I hadn’t picked up a book of his for a long time. I’d bought this copy about six months ago – it was an impulse purchase; I’d gone looking for two specific books but couldn’t find them, and grabbed Innocence as, like I said, it had been a while since I’d read his stories.
The last four books I’d read had been fantasy and grimdark, so while Innocence wasn’t the next on my ‘to read’ mountain, I grabbed it for some straight out horror. Koontz’s work has always been a little hit and miss – there have been stories of his that I’ve loved (Watchers, Strangers) and some I’ve been most disappointed in (The Mask, Phantoms), so I was a little unsure what to expect.
Oh, incoming spoiler alert:
HERE THERE BE SPOILERS. BIG SPOILERS. LITTLE SPOILERS. SPOILERS THAT MAY NOT APPEAR TO BE SPOILERS BUT MOST CERTAINLY ARE… ‘CAUSE I SAID SO, ‘KAY? READ ON AT YOUR OWN RISK.
Innocence is the story of Addison Goodheart, a monster whose visage evokes terror and incites violence against him. From birth, others have wished to destroy Addison. His mother had saved him from the midwives but even she found it difficult to look at and be around her son – five times she’d tried to kill him as a child, but hadn’t followed through. At eight years, she packed him a bag and sent him on his way in the world – a child with no experience but that of the remote bushland in which he’d spent his early years.
The story is told from the tight point of view of Addison, and the reader is immediately transported in the “under” world of the city the now man (at 26) has found a haven. Addison had made his way here as a child and was saved by another man – who Addison refers to as Father – with the same affliction. Alone now, after the murder of Father, Addison’s is a life lived at night and away from the prying eyes of those who live and suffer above. For Addison, despite a life lived in darkness and without human contact, is happy, content. His is an outlook that really is out of place when taking into account the horrors with which he’s been saddled. Lonely, though he is, his quiet acceptance of his affliction and his understanding of not wanting to upset others by his face, eyes and hands, is one of a gentle soul.
Addison finds escape in books (which only endeared me to him), and it’s on a post-midnight trip to the library that he encounters the socially-phobic Gwyneth. While Addison doesn’t wish to be looked upon, for Gwyneth it is touch that brokers fear. The scene in the library where they set their boundaries has some beautiful prose, and one of the best lines in the book: ‘We hold each other hostage to our eccentricities.’
And that’s the thing with this book; there’s beautiful prose all the way through, evocative imagery set within a tale of woe and hope. Addison is the star here; his childlike wonder at the world and his easy manner despite all he’s endured means you can’t help but root for him.
I will say that at times I wanted to shake Koontz for not giving me a better description of Addison and Father – when Addison sees his reflection he can’t see the affliction that creates the horror in those who do see his face. It was frustrating, but I kept on because it had to be at the end of the book… and if it wasn’t… grr!
The storytelling moves from past to present and does so seamlessly – each trip into the past tells of Addison’s road to where he is now, of Father and how the two (and now him alone) survived and continue to survive. Little pieces of the puzzle, and puzzle-pieces they were.
Gwyneth is an enigma; a wealthy enigma who is bent on exposing her father’s killer – Ryan Telford (and what a nasty piece of work he is). She introduces Addison to her world, one of which he could never envision. He falls hard and fast for her, and it’s not until the end that we realise she’s also fallen for him – but as Addison says, with their respective ‘issues’, theirs can be a love only of the mind and heart.
There’s a lot going on in this book, many different players that while, when reading, seem characters set to only move the plot forward. Don’t get me wrong, they’re fleshed out well, but it’s not until the end that we see how everything’s connected. Not just the main and secondary characters, but the worlds that all the players live.
There’s supernatural here, too, and the ‘Clears’ and ‘Fogs’ (as Addison calls them), are interesting in the sudden appearances throughout the story. Again, it’s all tied up in the end, but I’d figured out what they were a little earlier than when it was explained.
Koontz does well in leading the reader through the story, leaving breadcrumbs here and there – snatches of news broadcasts; a character knowing of Addison’s ‘rules’ regarding his affliction when they shouldn’t; Gwyneth’s social-phobia not always present. And yes, while reading I was frustrated by the author’s holding back, but the denouement was well worth it. When the revelation comes, it all falls nicely into place.
There’s a lot going on in this story, but the threads are woven very well by Koontz. It’s also a difficult book to shove into one particular genre: there are religious overtones, apocalyptic tones, supernatural, horror… there’s even creepy marionettes (don’t like puppets) a whole lot of different sub-genres, but I don’t think any of that matters. What you have here is a great story that holds you hostage as it drip feeds you what you need to flesh-out the story a little more, to give that little extra insight into Addison and Gwyneth, and makes you wonder how it’s all going to work out. If you’re struggling a little with this read, stick it out to the end, it’ll be well worth it.
While reading a book, I tend to have a star rating in my head, and while reading Innocence, I was looking at a three-star rating, but that denouement bumped it up to a four… or maybe four-and-a-half. Yeah, four-and-half, because even a day on, I’m still making the small connections within the book, and that’s good storytelling right there.