The Last Days of Jack Sparks is a brilliantly constructed book. The central conceit, as discussed in the introduction, is that the book represents the unfinished final non-fiction work of Jack Sparks, a writer who specialises in gonzo journalism in book form (his previous bestseller, Jack Sparks On Drugs, where he documents the effects of many illegal substances on his mind, is illustrative). The book, which was to be titled ‘Jack Sparks on the Supernatural’, is instead being published by his brother, and is appended throughout with additional explanatory notes at the end of each chapter, filling in the perspectives of other characters.
It’s a bold concept, and one rife with potential pitfalls - especially as the opening chapter appears to confirm our main narrator is both unpleasant and unreliable. Happily, Arnopp negotiates these choppy waters with a talent bordering on irritating, weaving a story that manages to be by turns dark, wryly amusing, and utterly gripping. Once the narrative really took hold, I found myself propelled along, by both the events of the story and the prose. Sparks may not be a terribly likable man, but he’s a skillful writer, and once you start to get into the rhythm of the chapters, part of the joy of reading his words comes from guessing at how much of what you're seeing reflects what’s really going on.
Ah, yes, the narrative. This is as tricksy and slippery a tale as I can recall reading in some time. The sheer audacity of it often had me grinning from ear to ear, and again, with the risks and potential pitfalls of both the story and the execution considerable, I am left full of admiration for just how brilliantly the story plays out. And yet, despite the postmodern framing and mind bending twists and turns, I never once for a second felt lost or out of touch - a product, I think, of some very intelligent writing.
Overall, The Last Days of Jack Sparks is a belter of a read, a genuinely smart horror novel that is meticulously constructed, creepy as hell, chilling, and fun. As a debut novel, and statement of intent, it’s downright terrifying.