Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Book Review: Skin Cage by Nico Laeser

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Synopsis (from the author): Daniel Stockholm was fifteen years old when a parasite hijacked his brain, rendering him paralyzed and reliant on machines that run day and night to keep him alive. 
For nine years, Danny has been confined within a biological prison with only two small windows, through which to view the world around him; a silent witness to the selfless compassion of some and the selfish contrivance of others. 
When the malicious actions of care worker, Marcus Salt, threaten to push Danny farther from the ones he loves, and deeper into the dark recesses of his skin cage, he is left with only one option. He must find a way out.

Review: Nico Laeser is an author name you would remember, and Skin Cage is such  a strange and affecting title for a book. Then, you consider the artwork, which just adds to the overall strangeness. The synopsis adds another level to this - and then - you start reading.

Skin Cage holds the reader's attention from the start, telling us the story of Daniel (Danny) who gives clues to his state. He is paralysed, and can hardly move anything, save for his on occasion or when his head lols to one side or another whilst being repositioned in his chair.

It is told in first person perspective. I've told a few stories like this already and it is a skill that most authors cannot pull off effectively. Ultimately, if you don't care about Danny, the first person narrative starts to grate. However, the author has been smart in keeping his chapters short but utterly readable. It's not a book you can skip parts on and understand what is going on. The author treats his reader with respect by saying 'you're in Danny's head with his thoughts, and in his body through his skin cage - if you casually skim past stuff, we will punish you by not filling in the blanks.'

Here is a story where each word, each sentence and paragraph has been painstakingly thought through before committing to paper and screen. 

Danny's view of the world is a strange one. He has his carers, some, like Cassie and Anna, who genuinely care about him. There are others, like Marcus Salt, who seems to be the villain of the story, but again, Skin Cage is not so explicit in the difference of black and white. 

Despite the engaging narrative and thoughtful 'thoughts' of Danny, which are always interesting, the story is never heavy, but neither should it be taken as light reading.

In the first third of the book, I found myself clocking up the chapters even though I hadn't sat through and read it for say a solid hour. By the second third (forgive me, I have an ice hockey past!) things take a dark and twisted turns. A few 'a-ha' moments arrive. That's not the end of it. Or the start.

By the final third, there was only one thing to do - finish reading this elegant and articulate story and find out the ending. It's hinted at where the story is going. But once Danny escapes his skin cage - a sequence that I thought was brilliantly highlighted in the synopsis but wondered could it possibly work in its execution - wow,  is all I can say.

Skin Cage sounds dark, twisted and disturbing. It is. But it is also funny, engaging and well worth anyone's time and money to read. I say that with the confident knowledge that this book is fighting against millions of others to be seen.

Scenes where a nurse is wondered a character may harm themselves should be disturbing. Instead, the author gives us a humourous scene:-

"Can I have a pen and paper?"
(pause)
"I'm not going to kill myself with it."

Another scene.

I would love to have the use of my body for long enough to deny him the further use of his.

There's a scene with a car that was my favourite moment in the entire book. It's so good, you will simply have to read it. I must also apologise to the author -Skin Cage has been on my read list for ages - but thankfully, it's been read now. I hope this review will help others to read it sooner than I did!