SECURITY by Gina Wohlsdorf

security by gina wohlsdorfThe Manderley Resort is a modern marvel. Designed and built as an exclusive getaway for the glitterati, it boasts only state of the art technology, with a security system to rival those of most governments, the better to ensure the peace and privacy of its pecunious patrons.

The day before the hotel opens for a press preview,  a small group of employees work through the night to make sure things will go smoothly. It’s a stressful enough time for Tessa, the hotel manager, without having her distant foster brother come barging into the resort and her life, dragging along with him their complicated, cluttered history. The rest of the group bring their own convoluted baggage to stir into the pot of the hotel, the pressure of which is sure to come to a head sometime during the night.

Witness to all of this is a seemingly all-knowing, all-seeing presence, tucked away in a secret room on the topmost floor, monitoring all these people that he can watch through Manderley’s myriad of security cameras hidden everywhere throughout the resort. Cameras through which he can watch these domestic dramas play out. Cameras through which he can see the killer in the Michael Myers mask holding the knife that he uses, effortlessly and methodically, to cut through the tension of everybody in the hotel.

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Gina Wohlsdorf’s Security is a lot of fun. Pulpy, and very tongue-in-cheek (the killer is literally dressed up as Michael Myers). The plot is inventive and intense. Its narrator — who, with their exceedingly detailed asides that increasingly veer into the abstract and existential, reads like a Stoic spec ops Patrick Bateman — is one of the most interesting I’ve ever read, and really is the star of the book. The reveal behind their identity stands as one of the most genuinely surprising and entertaining twists I’ve come across in recent memory.  I had a blast reading this book.⠀

 But, a couple of weeks after finishing it, it’s the format that has stuck in my mind more than anything else. ⠀

 I first tried reading the ebook version  a couple of years ago, but quickly found the robotic narration tedious. I came across a couple of reviewers that felt similarly, but also how they fared so much better when they picked up an actual, physical copy. So, still interested in the premise, which is great (modern hotel with extremely high tech security becomes a deathtrap), I purchased the paperback version. And I was glad to find that it was, indeed, a much better experience. The particular writing style still took a few chapters to get used to, but, thanks to the design of the book, eventually became immersive rather than tiresome. 

The main stylistic conceit of this slick thriller is that its chapters are meant to represent the many (so many) security cameras hidden throughout the hotel — the story’s sole setting. At times, when things are happening all at once, the paragraphs will rearrange themselves into a grid, as if you’re viewing a multi-monitor setup in a control room. More than an aesthetic, gimmicky choice, it’s actually justified in the story when you slowly learn more about who the narrator is and what they do.

The ebook, though, seemingly eschews all of that, leaving these sections as regularly formatted paragraphs. And while the text itself remains the same, there’s a dynamic that’s lost in the digital translation. There’s something stimulating about your eye moving freely across the grid, knowing you can read the sequences out of order and still be just as informed as if you read them sequentially, if not more so. It’s an element that adds to the tension and thrill of the overall story, and without it feels less immediate and more, as previously mentioned, robotic and mechanical, almost as if you’re reading a Wikipedia entry rather than a proper book.

 As someone who reads mostly digitally these days this was a good reminder of how format is much more than convenience, and can be used to add depth and verve to a story. 

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Clever devices aside, a story is nothing without good writing, and Wohlsdorf does a spectacular job here, elevating what would be a convoluted, run-of-the-mill suspense story with flair and panache.

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