Well, I was still in the mood for horror fiction, so I thought that I’d check out a second-hand copy of Robert Brockway’s 2015 novel “The Unnoticeables” that I ended up getting after I saw an intriguing description of the novel’s sequel (“The Empty Ones”, which is also on my to-read pile) on a list of recommended horror novels online.
So, let’s take a look at “The Unnoticeables”. Needless to say, this review may contain SPOILERS.
The novel begins with a bizarre description of an unknown man being shot by an angel. However, instead of dying from the bullet wound, he suddenly finds that strange things start happening to his mind.
The story then focuses on New York City in the summer of 1977. A punk dude called Carey is hanging out outside a nightclub with some of his friends, when he decides to meet up with a woman called Debbie who might have some drugs for him in a nearby alleyway. However, when he reaches her, she is being melted by a mysterious monster made out of tar and cog-wheels. Angered by this new development, Carey sets the monster on fire.
In Los Angeles in 2013, waitress and part-time stuntwoman Kaitlyn is having a bad day. Not only has she not had any stunt work for weeks, but she’s also just noticed a peeping tom outside her window. However, soon after she storms out of the house with a knife to confront the voyeur, an angel appears beside him and kills him….
One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it is a unique, bizarre and transgressive punk-themed horror thriller 🙂 Although it isn’t a perfect novel and it certainly isn’t for everyone, it has some really cool moments, an awesome atmosphere during some parts of the story and a brain-twistingly surreal plot that only really starts to make sense near the end of the book.
I should probably start by talking about the novel’s horror elements. This novel contains a rather unsettling mixture of well-crafted paranormal horror, philosophical horror, gruesome horror, surreal horror/body horror, sexual horror, Lovecraftian cosmic horror, suspenseful horror and character-based horror. Whilst this novel isn’t outright scary, it contains quite a few uncomfortably disturbing scenes, ominous moments and creepy moments of intellectual dread.
The main source of this novel’s horror is the concept of inhuman, mechanical utilitarianism – and this brings me on to the novel’s satirical elements. The story’s scenes of people being reduced to “efficient” algorithms are an absolutely brilliant criticism of modern social media/ tech companies. Likewise, the fact that the novel’s “empty” villains can create hordes of soulless, unnoticeable followers is also a brilliantly scathing comment about social media, fame etc… too.
Not only that, one of the novel’s creepiest villains (a washed-up celebrity called Marco) is also used as an eerily prescient comment about all of the scandals in the US film industry during 2017/18. In fact, this novel is basically a giant middle finger to Hollywood and popular culture in general. All of this irreverent satire also fits in really well with the novel’s punk atmosphere and really helps to add depth to the novel too.
The novel’s thriller elements are interesting too. Whilst this novel isn’t an ultra-fast paced thriller novel, there are enough interesting mysteries and moments of suspenseful horror and drama to keep the story compelling. In classic thriller fashion, almost every chapter alternates between two story threads (set in 1977 and 2013). But, although these two storylines connect with each other in interesting ways, they can sometimes parallel each other a little bit too closely – which can make a few scenes feel a bit repetitive.
Still, one of the things I really loved about this novel was it’s atmosphere. The scenes set in 1977 really make you feel like you’re hanging out with an anarchic group of punks and I really wish that the whole novel had focused on these awesome story segments. By contrast, the more modern scenes set in 2013 feel a bit dull and “ordinary” by comparison.
In terms of the characters, they’re really interesting. One of the major themes of this novel is that it is our flaws, imperfections and “inefficiencies” that really make us human. So, the main characters are a really intriguing bunch of misfits 🙂 By contrast, the novel’s villains are a disturbing collection of soulless beings, creepy stalkers, hollow celebrities, fanatical cultists and/or bizarre monsters.
In terms of the writing, this novel is interesting. Although this novel uses the dreaded multiple first-person narrators, it thankfully clearly signposts which character is narrating each chapter – so this doesn’t get too confusing. Likewise, all of the narration in this novel uses a wonderfully informal and distinctive narrative voice which not only adds personality and humour to the story, but also helps to keep the story moving at a reasonable pace too.
In terms of length and pacing, this novel is a bit of a mixed bag though. At a wonderfully efficient 283 pages in length, this novel doesn’t feel too long. However, whilst the beginning and ending of this story are really compelling, the middle parts didn’t really seem to be quite as gripping. Likewise, the occasional appearance of similar events in both of the novel’s storylines can feel a little bit repetitive at times.
All in all, this is an intriguingly weird punk-themed horror novel. Yes, it isn’t perfect and it probably isn’t for everyone, but this novel has an interestingly bizarre premise, a wonderful atmosphere (in the 1970s punk segments, at least) and some great narration.
If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get a four.