Hello, all. There’s still a little time for a fantastic summer read, and I have another great one for you. Today I have a review of Caroline Kepnes’ phenomenal second book, Hidden Bodies, which follows her addicting debut novel, You. My review of the first book can be found here.
About the book: Joe Goldberg is a stalker. He’s a murderer. He lies, steals, and cheats at life in every possible way. When Amy screws him over in New York, he follows her across the country to LA to exact his revenge. She’s a little slippery, though, and in the time it takes him to set up a plan and put it in action, he’s found a life for himself there. He’s found Love, at last. Maybe he can change once he has what he wants–but something keeps getting in the way. He left his DNA at the scene of a crime in You, and that mug of urine hidden in the back of a closet nags at him from across the country. Maybe he can change, but he always must be careful about his criminal past. It’s on the verge of catching up with him, just as he’s preparing to leave it behind.
Joe is an incredible character. He’s creepy and wonderful. His moods change faster than he can blink, sending him plummeting into anger or despair over the tiniest details but also making him incredibly easy to please, if only his various loves can go about it the right way. It’s a delicate balance that sends the reader into fright and anger at the injustice of Joe’s killing sprees, but also makes the reader cringe at the thought of his being caught and losing his chance at finally finding happiness with the love of his life. Joe is the kind of character you would be terrified to meet in real life, if you were lucky enough to see through his friendly demeanor in time to see him for the crazed murderer he is. And yet, in the pages of this book, you love having him out there in the world, free to carry on with his lies and schemes. Maybe you want him to get caught, but never to be stuck behind bars. Joe is the story. He’s the character you hate to love, but can’t quite help sympathizing with. He feels real.
“I don’t believe in love at first sight. But I do believe in electricity, the way it can recharge you. I am healing.”
Joe is optimistic. He believes love is out there. No matter how many times his dreams are crushed, no matter what he does to girlfriends gone wrong, he never stops believing that love is out there, that he will find it, and that everything will be fine once he does. And so he carries on, taking in every detail about everyone to always have the advantage; whether he needs a friend, needs to keep tabs on an enemy, or just needs to know what someone will do, he observes. He participates in life, but he lives in his head, in his observations. He interacts, he loves, he is loved at times, but still he’s most at one with his own psyche. His voice is compelling, shrewd, but most importantly, entertaining. He seems completely oblivious to the irony of some of his complaints:
“…and thank God that I am me, that I didn’t get sick like this, that I don’t covet imaginary friends and pry into places where I don’t belong.”
I was afraid that by the second book, Joe Goldberg’s quest for love would begin to seem repetitive. He’s always looking for love. He’s crazy, so it always seems unlikely to end well. He always reacts to being let down by love with personal offense and criminal activity. And yet, this second book is not repetitive. First, every girl he “loves” is unique. He doesn’t seem to have any particular type, and he’s quick to adjust his perspective and expectations. In this book, while he’s searching for Amy (who makes an appearance at the end of You), he meets a girl named Love. She and her brother, Forty, are rich and trying to “make it in Hollywood.” Joe, who seemed so rooted in New York in the first book, becomes entwined with Love’s family and even makes an attempt of his own to “make it in Hollywood”. Love is no Beck, no Karen, or Amy. With Love, Joe is different. Some of his goals change. Part of what makes him so interesting as a character is his ability to adapt and move on. For this reason, he never has regrets. Maybe he kills three people who get in the way of his ideal relationship. When that relationship doesn’t work out, he doesn’t feel bad about the extra deaths. He doesn’t seem to feel remorse for any of his crimes, unless they involve mugs of urine that might end in his demise, and even then, he only regrets the evidence, not the crime. It’s hard to imagine any sort of perfect match for Joe. He kills, and he thinks,
“They forget that the sweetest thing in life is to be alone, as you were born, as you will die, soaking in the sun, knowing that you put the cactus in the right place, that you don’t need someone to come along and compliment your work, that someone who did that would, in fact, just be getting in the way.”
Love, however, does not seem to be in his way. One of the best parts of Caroline Kepnes’ books, though, is that just when you think you know what to expect, she throws a great plot twist into the mix. The reader is so focused on Joe, so sure of his instability, that it’s easy to forget that the other characters can be just as unpredictable. Joe sure can pick ’em. His life is full of interesting and slightly deranged people, leaving the reader to wonder if everyone really is that crazy, and normalcy is just a facade.
I think the biggest reason you can’t help loving Joe’s character, though, is that despite his craziness, he has the occasional normal thought. He makes a comment and you think, “yes, I completely agree.” It leads you to trust his impressions of people, which also leads you to the gray area where maybe you have to trust him when he says someone has to die, because there are some times when he’s exactly right about the world:
“…it’s like the difference between a movie and a book: a book lets you choose how much of the blood you want to see. A book gives you the permission to see the story as you want, as your mind directs. You interpret. […] When you finish a movie you leave the theater with your friend and talk about the movie right away. When you finish a book you think.”
Hidden Bodies will certainly leave the reader thinking. You can choose how much crazy you see; you can choose to love or hate Joe Goldberg, but this is he kind of book that you can’t put down, no matter what you think of him.
A warning: this book contains a lot of profanity, and a lot of sex. If that bothers you in a book, this may not be the one for you. For me, that just made it feel more real. When something bad happens, Joe swears in his head, like many people do. When someone offends him, he doesn’t hold back from mental name calling. When he meets a pretty girl… You get the picture. Maybe it’s a flaw of his character, but it’s a great one. Allowing the reader into Joe’s thoughts–even the unsavory ones–heightens the impression that this is the real Joe, that the reader has full access, that he or she is right there in his head with him for the duration of his marvelous ride. He’s a truly captivating narrator.
“And this is my fault. I did not check for a pulse. I did not finish my job. In spite of everything I’ve learned from the mug of piss, I didn’t put that knowledge into action. I’m like an asshole in a sitcom who learns the same fucking lesson every week and this is my life.”
My reaction: 5 out of 5 stars. This book is truly addicting, and nothing like anything I’ve ever read before (except for its predecessor, You, obviously). I wanted it to go on forever, and I will be waiting on the edge of my seat for the next Joe Goldberg installment. There’s not one scheduled to release any time soon, but I will be watching. It’s that good.
- Ruth Ware’s In a Dark, Dark Wood is another thrilling summer read that will have you turning pages as fast as you can, wondering whether anyone is safe from a vicious killer. (She’s also got a new novel out this month that I will be reading soon, The Woman in Cabin 10. I’ve heard good things.) You can read my review of this book here.
- Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith (J. K. Rowling) is the third book in the Cormoran Strike series, but could be read as a stand-alone novel. If you like seeing the world from the killer’s perspective, this one has sections written like that, and is a masterfully done murder mystery. Learn more about the books of this series with these links: The Cuckoo’s Calling, The Silkworm, and Career of Evil.
What’s next: I’m currently reading Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, a novel in which a deadly flu has scourged the earth and ended life as we know it. The writing is beautiful, with seemingly unrelated characters connected in unexpected ways, and survival means something different for everyone.
Stack up the bodies with Joe. Don’t hide this book in your TBR stack.
The Literary Elephant