Author: Alex Bell
304 pages • £18.99 (hardback), £10.99 (trade paperback)
Here’s the deal. You’re a writer, and you set up a chilling fantasy novel about angels, demons, Heaven and Hell… you’re taunting your readers. Leading them on with the idea that there’s a powerful, meaningful story lingering behind all this, ready to be slowly revealed as the protagonist searches out his missing memories. There’s a bargain there, a promise from the author to his reader. And readers can get pretty angry when writers don’t deliver. Not quite in the ways that Gabriel does in this book, but still...
The Ninth Circle is a diary-format novel about a man, Gabriel Antaeus, who wakes up with no memory, just an apartment, a library of books about demons and Hell, and a big stack of money. He keeps the journal in an effort to record his life in case he forgets everything again. It’s a standard but tortured literary device – you can’t help but wonder how he remembers every word of conversation to make a note of it at the end of the day. And though seeing through the eyes of someone with no memory can work as a novel, it’s jarring here. Gabriel reinvents and rewrites himself constantly, and though this is part of the point, the writer hasn’t made it work; it just comes across as unstructured and inconsistent.
There are some interesting ideas here, but they ultimately collapse into a big messy heap. Constant hints at a chilling secret are eventually fulfilled, but in a laughably unexpected fashion. The diary format and angelic references keep you interested and keep you reading, but at the end you’re left unfulfilled – and more than a little annoyed.