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Book Review: Wolf in White Van

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John Darnielle

Published by Scribe (2014)

 

John Darnielle, perhaps better known for his work as a vocalist and composer for the band ‘The Mountain Goats’, has made a smooth transition to the literary world with his debut novel ‘Wolf in White Van’.

The novel follows the life of Sean Phillips, a strange, isolated and disfigured man from Southern California. With his vivid imagination he has created ‘Trace Italian’, an addictive text-based role-playing game, in which players pay to advance through the game. They must choose between options provided by Sean in the mail with the aim of eventually escaping from a dystopian present into a paradisiacal Trace Italian. Similarities could be drawn with the popular film Jumanji.

At the height of the game’s popularity, high school students Lance and Carrie die in a tragic accident while trying to play the game in the real world.  Sean, who would usually shun contact with the outside world, is suddenly thrust into the public eye when he is accused of being a major contributor to the students’ deaths.

Darnielle’s novel can be difficult to follow at times as the narrative frequently jumps between perspectives and timeframes, between Sean’s childhood and the present day, as well as his life before and after the accident. One could assume that Darnielle uses this structure as a means of heightening the suspense for the reader as the circumstances surrounding Sean’s disfigurement are only revealed at the end of the novel.

Already recognised for his talent as a composer, Darnielle’s skills have translated well into a novel format – his method of storytelling creates engaging and moving imagery for the reader to enjoy.

  ‘Wolf in White Van’ is an impressive debut novel, a recommended read for those of you who want to be transported to an imaginary dimension.  

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