Sometimes, no matter how much you like an author, their latest book ends up being a disappointment. NEUROPATH, by R. Scott Bakker, fit that description for us. As you all well know, we love his Prince of Nothing series. NEUROPATH is Bakker’s attempt to put his spin on the thriller genre.
It is evident within the first 20 pages (probably less to most people) that Neuropath is written with a very strong bias and moral (if there is such a thing…dun dun DUN) bent. This book, while a mystery/thriller, is not the typical fare in the genre. There are lengthy discourses about free will vs. determinism, what free-will is exactly, identity issues, and the possibilities of contemporary neuroscience.
Perhaps, before going on, we should reassure readers that the questions and information Bakker poses in this novel are presented (purposefully) in a way that makes them seem, not only plausible, but probable. However, contemporary neuroscience cannot do what is inferred within the context of the story. We want to give this reassurance because this book is scary. Very. Scary. It is the most dismal, disturbing, and gut-wrenching fiction book we have read in a long time. The only things we have read that have topped on the uncomfortable stomach-turning scale have been nonfiction.
NEUROPATH follows the Point of View of Tom Bible, a psychologist. If you have read Bakker before, the profession of the PoV should come as no surprise. Tom is divorced with two kids, and his relationship with his ex-wife is seriously strained. The main plot of the story focus on Tom helping the FBI find his friend Neil, who has been working with the NSA, manipulating terrorist’s brains in an effort to accumulate intelligence to save lives, and a topic of debate between the characters called The Argument. Tom’s friend has apparently gone off the deep-end, and is abducting and torturing innocent people by scrambling their brain functions to his own design.
It’s a twisted, and seriously awesome concept. However, as with most things in life, it’s the execution that matters. Bakker dropped the ball here. If you have been keeping up with EBR, you know it breaks our heart to say it, but it’s true.
While Nick loved the book, it wasn’t at all because the book was well done. It was the questions the book asked. Steve was so disgusted by the way the questions were handled he couldn’t enjoy it.
The main PoV, Tom, dominates just about every page in almost every chapter with the
discourses of The Argument, what it is, what it means, and why it is important. For Nick, this was, despite uncomfortably biased (reminding him of The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged), extremely fascinating and prompted several discussions with coworkers and friends where he took Tom’s and Neil’s side. For Steve, this was simply torturous maid and butler exposition.
The first time this kind of thing happened, we could forgive it, because it was written so well. After happening a few dozen times, however, it tended to rub us wrong. Essentially, it is as if we the readers are reading a transcribed conversation between a psychology professor and his unconvinced student. The concepts are explained well, and the writing is fantastic, but the simple fact that Bakker is “telling vs. showing” is extremely problematic.
The tone of the novel is VERY bleak. Probably not more so than any of Bakker’s other works, but it feels like it because of the contemporary setting. There is a line in the novel where a character states, “I don’t like happy endings.” That is a pretty clear indicator of how things are going to go. Look, we like grim and gritty–if you haven’t figured this out by now, you haven’t been paying attention. Shame on you. NEUROPATH was too bleak for Steve, Nick thought the tone was perfectly set. Abductions and murders that happen are very well done, but the ending of the novel will leave you feeling…sick. Not to mention that you can know for a fact that if Bakker had written more past the last page, it would have gotten worse yet. When you match all that with the hopeless nihilistic philosophy saturating the novel, it’s hard to like it. In the end, this caused Steve’s dislike. If you aren’t one to enjoy psychological and philosophical debates, that can’t be ended or decided, you will not enjoy this book. If you are like Nick and the ending leaves opportunity to discuss the content, and debate it, and pore over your own thoughts and opinions on the matter, you will put the book down feeling much more fulfilled.
There are plenty of twists and turns, and some come with a pleasant surprise, but most felt a little too convenient, perfect, or forced. As expected in a thriller, characters do stupid things so that the plot can move forward and the conflict can be cultivated. We know that’s part of the genre. Doesn’t mean we have to like it. And we don’t. The side stories going on the in the book do very little other than provide thin reasons why the FBI resources are spread so thin. Specifically, a side plot about a serial killer named The Chiropractor. When you have a story about one antagonist, and there is a side story about another, you know exactly what is going to happen it is inevitable (picture us doing Agent Smith’s voice right now). When he does finally show up, there is no wow factor or surprise, more like a “Well…finally” kind of feeling.
Steve didn’t like the novel, but he didn’t hate it. Nick like the theme, ideas, and questions, enough to like the novel, but appreciates and agrees with why Steve was disappointed. Bakker is a seriously gifted writer. He manages to explain everything in perfect clarity. Considering the deep topics, his writing makes them easily understandable, and makes the pace move along fantastically. We just couldn’t like the execution of a terrific premise, and in Steve’s case the tone of the novel. This novel really should have been so much…more.
Another issue, that needs to be mentioned outside of the content ratings section because of its prevalence, is Bakker making females into over-sexualized objects. You know the instant a female main character shows up that she will be involved in some sort of sexual relationship with the main PoV. The scenes are graphic, but unlike the Prince of Nothing series, they don’t seem to have much point other than shock-value. His characters in NEUROPATH seem to end up in porn-movie scenarios. They are, in a word, absurd.
If you really dig psychological and philosophical debates and concepts, you may enjoy this novel, you may not, but you WILL enjoy the questions that are posed. If you are really into Bakker, you may enjoy the book if can overlook its flaws. But this is easily his weakest effort at story-telling. Not to mention, the graphic content could easily turn off a majority of people.
Recommended Age: 18 and up for the graphic content and the concepts.
Language: This is an R. Scott Bakker novel. Tons. And. Tons.
Violence: Yeah, and some of it is meshed with sex. The parts not mixed with sex are very, very well done.
Sex: Lots. And it all feels cheap and unnecessary. We are starting to worry about Bakker’s wife.
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