Disclosure: this book was very generously provided for review purposes by the author.
One of my favourite books that I read last year was Ernest Cline’s awesome Ready Player One, which was an inventive quest through a fictional world but was hugely based on the author’s clear affinity and passion for videogames. I was approached by Derek Taylor Kent after he had seen I had taken such a liking to Ready Player One’s story and asked if I would be interested in reviewing his new novel, Kubrick’s Game.
Kubrick’s Game, on the first impression, shares a lot of similarities with Ready Player One but I feel it’s a disservice to both to directly compare the two. There’s certainly a similar structure but there’s a compelling enough difference between the two to say they complement each other, rather than compete.
Kubrick’s Game follows the story of Shawn Hagan, a budding and enthusiastic film student in Los Angeles who is an avid fanatic of the works of Stanley Kubrick, as he and s group of friends solve a puzzle that the elusive director has set them from, seemingly, beyond the grave. It’s a compelling and exciting quest that takes the characters through progressively-harder clues to solve the quest and, likewise, put them at greater risk for higher odds. It works well, with a linear progression of events that is still pretty thrilling. I was, on quite a few occasions, wondering quite how the ante would be upped from one scrape to another! Sure, some things didn’t go to plan for Shawn and his friends, and I appreciated those unexpected turns as they imbued in the story a sense of the reality of life – unlike a film, perhaps, life doesn’t quite follow such flawless linear progression.
With the characterisation, I thought that Shawn’s portrayal of being autistic was well done. I know several people with autism and Asperger’s (heck, I’m being assessed for it myself) and they’re all wonderful people, and I feel it was a plausible vehicle for Shawn’s obsession with Kubrick movies. It’s an appropriate trait – Shawn is an intense and extremely knowledgeable person when it comes to Kubrick, and his condition, while not laboured in the prose, does explain his struggle with social norms that are there throughout. It wasn’t explicitly mentioned all the time but the context for the character was well done, and it endeared Shawn to me – I understood his struggle from my personal experience and I certainly rooted for him!
I appreciated the themes that the author went for with Kubrick’s Game – what is friendship? How binary is friendship? Sense of loyalty and morality, and obsession – and identified with them. No, none of the characters are perfect but I didn’t expect them to be, and the themes were explored well enough for me to give them certainly a bit of thought and reflection myself, but neither did they hamper the prose or the plot; indeed, some of these themes had the plot taking unexpected and interesting twists.
I was also quite impressed at how thoroughly the author clearly knew the material he based the quest upon – unlike Ready Player One – Kubrick’s Game weaves an intricate and detailed quest throughout the works of Stanley Kubrick; there is no fictional element to fall back on. Setting the quest in amongst the back catalogue of a well-known and influential figure in cinema was quite daring and I would say was executed well – the author’s affinity for the base work showed through, and I think credit for weaving a pretty exciting and compelling narrative around these seminal works of film, and the trivia behind them, is well deserved. It’s neither esoteric to the point of being insular or vague to the point of being patronising. The author does well to challenge their own enthusiasm into the narrative and the characters.
To conclude, I greatly enjoyed Kubrick’s Game – there was a compelling and thrilling narrative with some memorable and interesting characters and I was impressed by the staging of the quest in the extant works of a famous director. Clearly the book is proud of its detail and revels in that, but doesn’t let casual readers feel left out, which is a great quality. The prose, too, invites you in for a wild ride and doesn’t leave you behind! I would absolutely recommend this book eagerly to those who desire a gripping and pacey puzzle-thriller, and especially those who enjoyed Ready Player One, and those who share as much a love of cinema as the author and his protagonist clearly do.
Buy Kubrick’s Game on Amazon UK