I like ambition in a novel. It suggests that the writer gives a damn about their work and, more importantly, suggests that the writer wants to create something that will one day match their ambition. Most of us writers write within ourselves. We work to structures that have been in place for a long time, deal with character tropes that are audience-friendly, narrative experiments are verboten, narrative and plotting are easy to decipher, and language is as reader friendly as possible. Very few of us make our audience work for it. In truth, even though many of us writers say we write to please ourselves and not our audience, the opposite is often true. We want the audience to love us.
So congratulations must go to Ryan Bracha for attempting something ambitious with his first novel Strangers Are Just Friends You Haven’t Killed Yet (now referred to for brevity’s sake as SAJFYHKY). It’s a multi-multi-character novel that weaves first person, third person, and other forms of narrative into a story that I’ll do my best not to give away too much of.
The story involves people putting themselves forward to potentially receive ten grand for doing something that is initially a mystery to them. When these people start turning up murdered with their throats cut and their clothes removed, it is immediately obvious that something beyond plain old murder is afoot. But, not being in possession of the full facts, the newspapers, the media, and the bloggers tag the murders as the work of the Sheffield Ripper. But as things progress, and the full game is revealed, the killings start to mount up and things start to get really crazy and the story encompasses strange gambling syndicates, millions of pounds worth of money, shady media manipulators, insanity, and a couple of people drawn into all this madness by a French sex addict who follows his dick just once too often.
SAJFYHKY tells its story through numerous narrative devices in numerous narrative voices. As the story progresses, voices chime in for a chapter or so and disappear as death or relevance to the story takes them out of the narrative. Of course, this makes it difficult at times to remember who is who occasionally, especially if you are quite a slow reader, but the whole thing is well written and tries to impale a considerable portion of modern society with its satire. It doesn’t always succeed in its ambition; some chapters feel like they could be shortened, some characters don’t always work; but when it does succeed, and everything is firing, it is incredibly funny and bitter and in places sad. Bracha is a genuinely talented writer. I hope he doesn’t curtail his ambition and continues to stretch himself with broad narratives and experiments with character and voice.
If you are a reader who is prepared to work for it, and can stomach strong violence, language and some sexual content (and if you can’t, why the bloody hell are you reading my blog?), SAJFYHKY will give you some real moments of pleasure and it comes recommended by this particular reviewer.