Lauren Bailey has disappeared, and Matt is having nightmares.
I don’t often read horror, though I’m not sure why as I love horror films, but the Slender Man urban legend is such an intriguing pop-culture focus that I really wanted to read this one. I found the story gripping and the composition expertly crafted.
The first thing I liked about the book was that it’s by ‘Anonymous’, already creating an illusion of reality meeting legend before you’ve even read the first line. It sets the scene perfectly for the tone of the book without you quite realising it – very meta and clever. I do think this could have been carried further with the blurb on the back though. All it needed was the first line to be intriguing enough; most people know of Slender Man, so the title and a brief line to reel the reader in was probably all that was needed.
The book begins with a prosaic diary entry by the main character and predominant narrator Matt. We quickly find out that he is under duress to write it from his therapist and parents, and the point is part of getting over his recurring nightmares which we don’t find out more about until later on. Instead we are presented with an intelligent and very self-aware high school boy from a privileged background who tells us about his parents and friends. It’s a classic opening to lay the groundwork of normality which we all know will be uprooted, but it’s kept thankfully short and sweet. The narrator’s self-awareness is a great tool for setting the scene quickly, and you instantly connect with him because of this. Matt is a relatively normal boy, and he knows it. There’s even a paragraph on ‘The Hero’s Journey’ theory adding a whole extra level to the self-reflective nature of the book as a whole; you know it’s fiction, it’s got to be – right?
Continuing through the book, each ‘chapter’, for want of a better word, uses a different source: diary entries; police interviews; Whatsapp messages; Reddit threads; creative writing; newspaper articles and audio recording transcripts. The disjointed compilation reads almost like a police evidence dossier and lends credence to the idea that this isn’t just a story. The best horrors are ones which draw you in and have you second guessing what’s real, so I enjoyed that the structure was itself an integral part of the narrative, heightening the discomfort. It also secures it in the ‘now’, a risky venture sometimes, but I think the author manages to do this without rendering it outdated in the future. The use of current communication platforms is a vital part but is used sparingly throughout, used only to highlight events brought out in Matt’s diary entries. It adds a level of mundane reality and a stark contrast to the growing fear that compliments the style perfectly. As Slender Man was created on an internet forum it’s only right that this tale contain parts of that origin, rooting it firmly in the legend’s canon and the fact that stories can take on a life of their own.
So, is it scary? I’d say the more I read, the more it took on the shape of a psychological thriller rather than horror. The choppy style and the foreshadowing of Matt’s nightmares help build a gripping tension that propels you through a book you can’t put down, and as the tale continues, doubts begin to creep in about the narrator. Are you reading a descent into madness? Is this all in the mind of a disturbed boy? In some ways this is a scarier story than of a shadowy creature of nightmare created on the internet.
This is something intangible and creeping, a sickness that has seeped into the unconscious and is bleeding out into the real world.
Slender Man is published by HarperCollins and is available here.
Reviewed by Amber Mears-Brown
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