It’s not often I comment directly on reader reviews. In fact, I believe this is the first time I’ve ever done it. However, one review over on Amazon was recently brought to my attention by another reader who disagreed, and it got me thinking. I would like to state first and foremost that I am not complaining about this review, it is my firm belief that all readers are entitled to their own opinion, and whether you like a book or not is very much a matter of taste.
If you don’t like my books, for any reason, I really don’t mind. I’m glad you took the time to read them, and I appreciate the feedback.
Like a pulp romance novel the main character Andee finds herself drawn into love, yet, the reader can’t fathom why. A fated romance just because they are attracted is silly. Her boyfriends seem shallow, a bit psycho and does little to really make the reader feel any great empathy for them.
You can read the full review here if you’re interested in context and what else this reviewer has to say, but I am just going to focus on this one point.
In this case there really is absolutely NOTHING to complain about. It’s a five star, very balanced, and fair review. I am commenting today not because I disagree, but because it really got me thinking about the book. Two points in particular jumped out at me. I will deal with the second in a separate post next week, but this week I find myself thinking:
“Fuck. I should have made that clearer.”
For those of you who haven’t read Chasing Azrael yet, you may wish to wait until you have before reading as this contains spoilers! If you don’t have your copy yet, you can get it in paperback or on Kindle from Amazon, or buy direct from me.
The comment is three-fold. First is the observation that the reader can’t understand what Andee sees in her love interests. Second is the opinion that ‘a fated romance just because you are attracted is silly’. Third is the view that Andee’s boyfriends are shallow and ‘a bit psycho’.
I’m not going to disagree with any of this, Andee’s attraction to the two love interests she has in Chasing Azrael, even to me, unfathomable. But that’s the point. And if readers are left wondering, I’ve clearly not made that point clear enough!
I’m reiterating the spoiler warning here, because in order to explain this, I have to explain a reasonable chunk of the book.
James, the erstwhile husband who committed suicide two years prior to the start of the novel and has haunted Andee ever since, is selfish, unpredictable, jealous, angry, and violent. He does have redeeming features, I promise you, but for the duration of Chasing Azrael, we see very few of them. He’s passionate and brilliant, but on balance these things just aren’t enough to compensate for his flaws.
The issue Andee has at this time in her life is that she is still unable to break James’s grip on her, despite the fact he’s dead. She’s never been able to face the truth of their relationship, and part of her journey throughout Chasing Azrael is coming to terms with that truth. The realisation of just how toxic their relationship was, and the fact that she shouldn’t be attracted to him, is a major part of her story arc.
This is complicated by the fact she was unaware he had bipolar disorder. It was a secret he kept from virtually everyone, his whole life. His parents were ashamed of their mentally ill son and did everything they could to deny his illness, and instill in him the belief that nobody could love him if they knew the truth.
The reality is that Andee would have loved him regardless, her obsession with him is/was almost as unhealthy as his with her. She’s a smart woman, she knows mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of and, had she been aware of his condition, she would have been able to ensure he had the help and support he needed. This revelation is difficult for her to deal with, not least because she feels that, had she known the truth, she could have prevented his death, and their relationship might have been wonderful.
Whether this is the case or not is impossible to say, but the exploration of their relationship in the novel is limited to the periphery of this revelation. James is dead. The only interaction we see between the characters are incidents of Andee talking to his ghost, the occasional memory, an a short series of flashbacks to the night James died.
It goes without saying he was at his worst that night.
Andee’s sorting through the news of his illness, and trying to accept that he was violent and difficult and, contrary to her deep-seated believe, was never right for her. As a result, her focus throughout the novel is on the negative memories. There are very few mentions of happy times or redeeming features.
Given how little we see of James’s good side, it is totally understandable that the question of what she sees in him is utterly baffling.
The main events of the novel focus on Andee’s depression and her own suicidal thoughts, and the series of events that finally drag her out of this pit and force her to confront reality. Events begin with Josh, James’s best and oldest friend, who is a very good friend of Andee’s. Josh is a serial womaniser currently embroiled with a Russian beauty. Andee despises Natalya from the moment they meet and Josh’s increasingly erratic behaviour causes her real worry. Her best friend, Lily, is convinced this is down to jealousy, and she is partly right, but the main cause is an overwhelming feeling that there is simply something wrong with the woman.
Andee’s quite right about this, as it transpires that Natalya is a serial killer. She manages to get Josh away from Natalya, but there is tension between Andee and Josh, who has been in love with Andee for a very long time.
She was his best friend’s wife, so he left it alone.
What is perhaps not as clear to the reader as I’d intended is that his womanising is a result of his deep love for a woman he knows he can never have. Josh has been repeatedly trying to find that kind of love, and inevitably failing. He skips from one woman to the next desperate for that kind of connection and totally oblivious to the carnage he leaves in his wake. As the book continues it is revealed that he once loved another girl, and lost her horribly. This, and his later feelings for Andee, led to him acting the way he does with women – he can be utterly charming when he wants to be, but he keeps them at a distance. He’s too damaged to allow himself real feeling for anyone, aside from the one woman he categorically cannot have.
Josh appears to be incredibly shallow but at heart, he’s deeply damaged and has more self-defense mechanisms than he knows what to do with. Despite the fact he’s an intelligent man he’s book-smart, not emotionally smart. He doesn’t have the capacity to understand this about himself, let alone attempt to change it. He really doesn’t think about it that much. In that sense, he is extremely shallow.
I can understand readers disliking Josh. He’s arrogant, he’s often condescending, and despite the fact he loves Andee, he doesn’t really understand her at all. Unlike Andee, he was aware of Josh’s condition, but chose not to tell her, or do anything to try and manage it. It’s difficult to understand why he would be so negligent. I like to believe this was because he didn’t know enough to help, but if I’m honest, I think it has far more to do with his feelings for Andee. Subconsciously, I think part of him hoped James’s behaviour would eventually make her leave him so she could be with Josh.
It never occurred to him it might get his best friend killed.
This guy may have the looks to be Prince Charming, he may even have the charm, but at his core Josh isn’t a nice guy. There are reasons for this – his childhood was a rough one. He has serious issues with his father, and his whole family is in a massive amount of debt that Josh has had to work his whole life to pay off. He’s intelligent and successful, he has a good job, is well paid, but his lifestyle is still very much as it was when he was a child – he lives simply, in a small flat, with little money. Not through any fault of his own, but because of his father. Add to this the guilt he feels over the death of his first girlfriend, and the death of his best friend, and you begin to see why he’s so twisted up.
It’s not an excuse. But it is an explanation.
What Does She See In Them?
This isn’t easily answered, and I think the reason this particular reviewer failed to understand is that it’s not explored in the book as much as I’d have liked. Andee’s mother had severe depression. Andee herself has suffered from it most of her life. She met James when she was eighteen and still trying to understand the world. She’s extremely intelligent, but a social misfit. She doesn’t fit in, she never has. She doesn’t understand people and she doesn’t really want to. She likes her solitude, her work, her music, and her dogs.
James was a kindred spirit. He knew depression, he understood the toll it takes and the difficulties it creates. He also knew what it was like to always be the smartest person in the room and generally have people resent you for it, even if they were unaware that was why they didn’t like you. He was weird and impulsive and just inserted himself into her life in such a charming manner she was totally disarmed by him.
And then her parents died. Her first ghost appeared. Her whole world fell apart, her depression worsened, and for a while – due to the ghosts – she thought she was completely losing her mind.
James understood. He was there for her. He took care of her when she couldn’t take care of herself, and he became her world. He became her family. They got far too serious, far too quickly, when she was far too young and very vulnerable.
The question isn’t really what Andee saw in him – yes she found him attractive and brilliant, charismatic and understanding – but it was less a case of want and more a case of need. She needed something permanent, something she could depend on, something that seemed, at the time, normal, while everything else had gone to hell.
He gave her that, and she loved him for it.
But that isn’t enough to build a life on.
Andee didn’t know how to exist without James. She was so dependent upon him that he became everything to her. This resulted in her inability to leave him when things got bad, and her inability to let him go when he died.
For me, writing this book was incredibly cathartic, because at the time this was a point I was learning about myself and my own life.
You can’t be with someone simply because they are there when you need someone.
Even if you love them.
It’s not enough.
It takes Andee a while to realise this, and in turn, explains her attraction to Josh and what she sees in him. For while it is very obvious she finds him physically attractive, and always has, it is not until she starts letting go of James that she begins to see Josh as an option. James’s ghost may be lingering but there is no physical presence, no physical comfort, nothing to ground her in reality and keep her sane and safe. Despite his violence, James did do this for her. But now he’s a ghost himself, and the more she sees him the more she loses her grip on reality. Despite her depression, Andee isn’t truly ready to give up on life – she toys with the notion, but the only time she seriously attempts to kill herself is the night James dies, and it is ambiguous as to whether that was a purposeful attempt on her part, or an accident caused in part by her desperation to find James, and in part by his desperation for her to die alongside him.
Andee is drawn to Josh because he can do for her what James always did., and she’s not figured out yet that this is a bad thing.
Despite her solitary ways she’s no good at being on her own. She needs people to prop her up. She had James, and she has Lily, but when she lost James she was thrown off-balance. She needed a second person to keep her steady, and for a while Josh seems like the ideal guy.
Until, that is, she realises he’s just like James. That her reasons for wanting him have less to do with loving him than do the need to survive. Andee wants more than simple survival, she wants to stand on her own feet and fall in love for the right reasons. She’s not entirely without help – she still has Lily, and has, by the end of the book, formed a new friendship with Robert – but she’s broken free of that mentality that sees a person fall into relationships simply for the sake of being in a relationship.
And that is the whole point of the story, from Andee’s relationships to Josh’s flings, to Natalya’s obsession with her husband and the reasons she’s driven to kill.
Being there isn’t enough.
Love isn’t enough.
A Fated Romance
The other point made concerned Andee’s ‘fated romance’.
I completely agree with the sentiment that a fated romance based entirely on physical attraction is silly. It goes against the whole notion that a romance is, in some way, more than the sum of its parts, more than simply two people falling in love: it’s kismit, it’s meant to be, it’s fated.
There’s nothing you can do to avoid it, or change it, that person is your fate.
The thing is though, neither of Andee’s romances are fated.
For the majority of the novel she thoroughly believes that her fate is to be with James. She believes that, with James dead, the only logical course is to die herself, so they can be together on the other side.
There’s a huge difference, however, between the belief that it is your fate to be with someone who is ultimately wrong for you, and a romance that is ineffable, larger than life, unavoidable, that is fated.
The notion of the fated romance is something that is explored in depth as the series continues, BUT I will let you in on a little secret:
The romance in question has nothing to do with Andee.
There is only one fated romance in the Deathly Insanity series, and it’s not Andee and James.
Nor is it Andee and Josh.
Because to think a romance is fated just because you are attracted to someone, or don’t know how to function on your own, is silly.
The final point made by the reviewer is one I’m not going to argue.
James and Josh are both a bit psycho.
In James’s case I think that’s an understatement – although I would hasten to point out that this is NOT because he’s bipolar. It’s because he’s selfish and obsessed with Andee. This drives him to some rather extreme acts. Ultimately, he does go some way toward redeeming himself, but the long and short of James (in Chasing Azrael at least) is that he’s a nut.
I am actually quite upset to find he comes across this way, for the character is not (in my head at least) shallow in any way. I can, however, see how he would seem this way to the reader, based only on what we see of him in the confines of this novel.
We see very little of James directly in Chasing Azrael and what we do see isn’t positive. It’s difficult to view him as having any kind of depth when you know so little about him – this is my failing, as I’m afraid while writing I forgot that you don’t all know him as well as I do.
As for Josh… despite my earlier defense of him, I’m not sure I can argue with this assessment. He is a shallow man in many respects. He values appearances, and money. The fact he has little money bothers him a great deal, far more than it would a lot of people. It’s made him bitter. Rather than enjoying his life for what he has, and the people he has in it, he obsesses over the wealth and stuff he doesn’t have. This isn’t helped by the fact Andee is very wealthy. She has a lot of family money on top of what she earns herself, and from the day James became involved with her he wanted for nothing, despite the fact he never really worked. Josh has worked his arse off all his life and finds it bitterly unfair he has so little to show for it, when his best friend did next to nothing and has it all – the house, the car, the money, the girl.
There is a little more to him than this – he does love Andee, he cares for his family even though he hates his father, and the death of his first girlfriend is, in many ways, responsible for this outlook. Had they been wealthier she would, in his mind at least, never have ended up the way she did. Money could have saved her life and, in some ways, his own, for had she lived, had they been together, he believes everything would have been very different.
He’s probably right.