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Douchebag in a Bag: Jennifer Platt Reviews Alex van Tonder’s Debut Novel This One Time

By Jennifer Platt for the Sunday Times

This One TimeThis One Time
Alex van Tonder (Pan Macmillan)

Alex van Tonder can’t hide that This One Time is her ode to the horror master Stephen King, especially his 1987 novel, Misery. In fact, she’s quite meta about it, making pointed references to it here and there, which adds an eerie layer to this psychological thriller: for every crazy woman keeping a writer captive in the woods, there’s another one whispering in her ear.

Van Tonder’s main character Jacob Lynch has a dual persona. His alter ego is Brodie Lomax, who represents everything nasty and seedy about the Internet: the revenge porn, the ease with which people become instant celebrities, the fake machismo, the speed at which a half-formed stupid idea becomes a “truth”.

Jacob created Brodie by “simply amalgamat[ing] all the worst traits he gleaned from covering the broad range of assholes he’d met… gleefully piecing them into a meda-dick.” Being this “Professional Douchebag” – a description he appropriates proudly – he gets a seven-figure book deal and his own reality TV show. But he also gets his comeuppance, in the form of an invitation to stay at the Delphine Lodge, a hotel in Alaska. It has been abandoned for the winter. It’s the perfect place for Jacob to dry out from his alcohol- and drug-fuelled life – and finish his book. The Shining, anyone?

In the hotel waits young, beautiful, blonde Alicia, who claims she’s there to look after her sole guest. But soon he’s her prisoner, then her torture victim. Women, through Alicia, are taking their revenge on Brodie.

Jacob wants to discard the character, but will Alicia allow him? And will the world allow Brodie Lomax to disappear?

Like Lauren Beukes (who gives a shout on the cover: “… a straight razor on the pulse of pop culture, scathing, witty and incisive”), van Tonder is a South African setting her story firmly in the United States. And like Beukes’, her writing is sleek, sharp and refreshing. The only problem is that there is a lot of it – the book sags a bit in the middle. But the final twist makes getting through those soggy bits worth it.

– Jennifer Platt @Jenniferdplatt

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