Title: We Eat Our Own
Author: Kea Wilson
Genre: Fiction (literary with a smidge of horror)
Release date: 6th September, 2016
“When a nameless, struggling actor in 1970s New York gets the call that an enigmatic director wants him for an art film set in the Amazon, he doesn’t hesitate: he flies to South America, no questions asked. He quickly realizes he’s made a mistake. He’s replacing another actor who quit after seeing the script—a script the director now claims doesn’t exist. The movie is over budget. The production team seems headed for a breakdown. The air is so wet that the celluloid film disintegrates.
But what the actor doesn’t realize is that the greatest threat might be the town itself, and the mysterious shadow economy that powers this remote jungle outpost. Entrepreneurial Americans, international drug traffickers, and M-19 guerillas are all fighting for South America’s future—and the groups aren’t as distinct as you might think. The actor thought this would be a role that would change his life. Now he’s worried if he’ll survive it.
Inspired by a true story from the annals of 1970s Italian horror film, and told in dazzlingly precise prose, We Eat Our Own is a resounding literary debut, a thrilling journey behind the scenes of a shocking film and a thoughtful commentary on violence and its repercussions.” (Simon & Schuster/Scribner)
There were a bunch of things that piqued my interest in this book, but in particular it was the words “horror”, “thrilling”, “shocking”, and “violence” in the blurb. Basically what I was expecting was horror type gore, set against a backdrop of political unrest and drugs, in the most perfect setting (the jungle) imaginable for a bloody book. I got most of that, but not enough of what I really wanted, which was the shock and thrill of a horror.
Despite my expectation of bloody horror, I would say that the book probably fits more into the literary fiction category. While there were moments of shock, thrill, and violence, they were too far and few between to have any real lasting impact on me as a reader. Having said that, if I’d have gone into the book with different expectations I might have had a very different experience. But the dark part me that enjoys gore really liked the bloodier parts of the book and by the end I wished there had been more.
Even though I didn’t quite get what I wanted, I enjoyed the actual reading of We Eat Our Own. The behind the scenes aspects of the film were interesting and I enjoyed seeing how the two makeup artists had to improvise in the steamy surrounds of the jungle, when they had next to no equipment and the plans for the shoot could change at the drop of a hat, if the plans were even known at all.
Another highlight was the use of a second person narrative (along with some transcripts and the more common third person narrative). The use of this narrative was probably my favourite thing about the book as it isn’t something I see a lot, which made the reading experience different from usual. It helped to immerse me in the story and feel closer to the events taking place; this in turn helped to build tension throughout and promised for a big ending. But the conclusion fell a little flat for me, and what I think was meant to be a big twist would have been more a twist if it hadn’t happened.
Although the narrative was interesting and pulled me through the book, I found it hard to engage with any of the characters on an emotional level – put plainly, none of them were very likeable people and I didn’t care much either way what happened to them either way. The only character I felt slightly invested in was the Italian director, Ugo, because so much of the outcome was dependent on him and the direction he takes the film. I spent a lot time wondering whether he was named after the character Ugolino, who appears in Dante’s Divine Comedy and eats his own children in order to not starve. In We Eat Our Own, Ugo’s willingness to do whatever it takes to achieve his vision sees him metaphorically, rather than literally, eat his own children; his children being the film crew and the actors. I’m probably clutching at straws with this connection, but I like it so I’ll go with it.
Maybe I ruined We Eat Our Own for myself by wanting it to be something it wasn’t, but as far as debuts go, this is a solid one from Kea Wilson, and I will absolutely be looking out for her work in the future. There’s a lot to like about this book and even though it didn’t all work together for me, I’m confident that if I’d gone into it with a different set of expectations I would have appreciated it a lot more.
UPDATE 7th October, 2016: For those interested in reading about the true events that inspired this book, you can check out this article.
Many thanks to Scribner and NetGalley for providing me with a review copy.