By Joseph Sale – Sick Part II is how you do a sequel. Told from the perspective of John Branch, rather than Susan, the prose is tonally worlds apart. Whereas the first book had a zest of the Gothic, Sicker fully commits, with John’s labyrinthine mind and vast intelligence unveiling a far more lyrical storytelling that seethes with undercurrents of repressed emotion. Writing from the perspective of a compelling or mysterious character is not easy, because the reader can always see through artificial charisma. But Christa carries it off seemingly effortlessly. John’s perspective is hugely entertaining to read, and leads to some incredible insights that are eminently quotable: ‘What’s normal for the spider is chaos to the fly’.
Sick Part II is principally a journey into the past, John telling his tragic story. The way this second book compliments the first is truly astonishing, as it explains so much of his thought process: revealing key events that have triggered aberrant behaviour, childhood neglects which have led to warped thinking. John should be, by all accounts, an intensely dislikeable character: he is self-pitying, self-obsessed, self-destructive and self-entitled – you might notice ‘self’ is the operative word with John – but you cannot help but warm to him when you realise the extent of damage done as a child, and even more chillingly, realise that his conclusions about how the world works are exactly the conclusions anyone would draw in his situation. There is an infallible and disturbing logic to all his actions, and this revelation is so profoundly realised. If Christa ever offered counselling sessions, I’d sign up immediately. You’d think from this book she could get to the root of anyone.
Sick Part II not only develops John, but also many of the side characters, including, perhaps most critically, his mysterious and oft-absent father – John Branch II. Sick Part II cleverly mimics Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, in that it is a framed narrative (John’s first person account couched in a third person novel), containing a deeper framed narrative (the first person narrative of John’s father). As we move down through these layers, as though through the levels of consciousness itself, we get closer and closer to an awesome catharsis where we discover the truth of why the male Branchs have such a dysfunctional and unloving relationship. Buried at the heart of this is an image as iconic as that of Alexander the Great being born, amidst a river of blood, as the city of his birth lay assaulted and besieged by invaders, an image that is clearly at the heart of who John is. It left me shaking with emotion.
Though this second entry could well stand alone, the story is certainly not done by the end of it. In fact, really, the first two books have only been set up for Sick Part III which was released midway through 2017. I’ll be reviewing the third and final book soon, so keep reading!
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