The Last Days of Jack Sparks by Jason Arnopp

Jason Arnopp's The Last Days of Jack Sparks takes the form of a manuscript by the fictional Jack Sparks, a gonzo pop culture journalist. His previous book, Jack Sparks On Drugs, saw him end up rehab, and his latest effort begins with him attending an exorcism. Jack doesn't believe in ghosts, the Devil, God or anything beyond the physical realm, and he's not shy about saying so - in fact, he's one of those people who manages to do so repeatedly in that self-consciously attention-seeking way that even most fellow atheists find obnoxious. So how does he explain everything that happens when he witnesses an Italian priest attempt to drive the a demonic spirit from the body of a young girl? And more to the point, how does he explain the many more terrifying things that happen to him afterwards? Who uploaded a mysterious ghost-caught-on-film video to his YouTube channel, now taking the internet by storm?

We already know at the start of the book that something has gone badly wrong for Jack, because the manuscript we're reading comes with an intro and caveats from his estranged brother and his own careless annotations to his long-suffering editor, as well as interjections from other characters, whose interpretation of events is invariably different from Jack's. Indeed, Jack seems to be a highly unreliable narrator - just ask his flatmate, who finds herself unwillingly cast in the role of manic pixie dream girl in Jack's books. Even his 'Jack Sparks' persona is an artifice of sorts, Jack being a name he has affected because he deems it cooler than the more middle-class Jacob. As he tries to get to the bottom of the mystery of the ghost video, his journey takes him all over the world, and it's no coincidence that he is disliked by almost everyone he meets.

The Last Days of Jack Sparks is a clever and often funny horror novel. Jack himself is utterly obnoxious (the sort of minor celebrity who has 260K Twitter followers 'but only follows thirteen people back, including Richard Dawkins and Ricky Gervais') and that did mean that while I was interested in what happened to him, I wasn't necessarily sympathetic, even when his vulnerabilities were exposed. I don't have to like a character to care about them, but there were times when I simply didn't want to give Jack my attention. He is a sharp caricature of a particular type of person, and a very well-drawn one - plus, it's important to the plot that he's not well-liked. But that did sometimes mean that sharing headspace with him occasionally felt like hard work.

The plot becomes more high-concept as it progresses, and works very well as a horror story with some many unsettling moments of creeping menace and the nervy, ominous sense of a man on the verge of a mental collapse. It's very much horror for the digital age, with social media playing a key role in the action, but at no point do these elements feel contrived or implausible, as they sometimes can on paper. There are some interesting ideas raised, too, about the way we deceive ourselves as well as others as we attempt to mask our insecurities. The Last Days of Jack Sparks is a smart, funny and intriguing read, and I look forward to reading Arnopp's second novel, Ghoster, soon.