Book Reviews

Spiritless but Actually Not by Kyle Mitchell

What Da Cover Says: Twenty-two literary artifacts. Exceptionally bleak. And then impossibly: Sublime.

A picture of contemporary existence painted with strokes of rawest emotion—contained herein is everything you were told you weren’t supposed to feel. With self-recognition as you stray from the identity thrust upon you in your youth—now your own guilt and horror—find yourself reacting to a world which couldn’t give any less of a fuck about you. You swore you never would, but you’re becoming violent, and extraordinarily upset.

What do all these disparate experiences share? What overlaps between the Berkeley quantum physicist (with his intention for apotheotic omnipotence), and that of the adderall-addled teenager suffering through pre-calc?

What’s the difference in the existential horror experienced by a conservative father exercising his god-given right to purchase a barbecue to feed his suburban nuclear family… and that of the contemporary descendant of a barely extant native culture, peering from a mountaintop into suburbia and badtripping not on drugs but existence itself?

Yes, how many gods and belief systems were culled so that we could have this rendition of society, this contemporary dystopia with its incessant drip of joy, joy, joy?

And more joy?

What I Says: Every now and then before I decide whether I will read a book I’ll go and check out the negative reviews to see what upset the 1 star brigade and boy did this have some upset readers haha. Too much swearing was the common theme of complaints, well that was me sold on the book as I love a good fucking swear. They weren’t wrong though, the first story or artifact really does knock you for six, the language is so vivid and it stays that way for the rest of the book, whilst the swearing is reduced to nominal levels in the proceeding chapters, the strength of the language stays strong. There is a darkness to the writing, such bleak subject matter is sure to bring the reader down but each artifact ends with a glimmer of hope, could the protagonist of each chapter somehow make it?

Each artifact starts with a piece of art, a line drawing of some creepy weirdness, maybe a representation of the character’s spirit? The titles of each piece are impressive, a couple of examples are “nostalgia for suicide” and “hate in my soul“. There were a few stories I just didn’t get and I found those ones to be like wading through treacle, but for the most I enjoyed them for a number of different reasons, the atmosphere on a golf course as the surrounding area burns was amazing, you could almost feel that everything was tinged with a orange hue. The one about the young woman reminiscing about a dark moment in her life whilst house sitting was full of so much loneliness. And the absolute douchebags driving a speedboat whilst showing off about how they were going to make millions had me willing the boat to crash, Mitchell managed to bring the monster in me out.

The most impressive part of this book was the dialogue, Mitchell has got the art of writing a conversation exactly how it would happen in real life, spot on. The characters laugh at themselves, interrupt each other, talk utter nonsense and show off a lot, if you have ever overheard a couple of youths talking rubbish on a bus, the way their conversation flows is what Mitchell has produced here, it must have taken a huge amount of editing to get that just right, it’s a bit like Hubert Selby Jr. where you don’t need any he said/she said’s because the natural flow makes it easy to follow along.

I do have one issue with the book, it is far too long, at nearly 500 pages of very intense experiences I think it was too much for me, the book could be split into two volumes and still work in my opinion….or maybe that is all part of the show, the characters have been pushed to the limit so maybe it is only fair the reader does too? Maybe that means this shouldn’t be classed as a book, is it more a piece of art?

My final thought on this book: the reader has been taken on quite the journey, witnessed much darkness and pain and at the end there is that little moment of joy and hope…almost feels like Hellraiser with the mix of pain and pleasure.

Massive thanks to Kyle Mitchell for reaching out to me to share his book with me, I reckon if he hadn’t I would have missed out on an incredible reading experience.


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