Sunday, 30 November 2008

Amnesia - Sinclair Smith

Sometimes, when I’m stomping down the street scowling angrily at passers-by, people stop and ask me what’s wrong. I just shove a Point Horror under their noses and I say, “This. This is what’s wrong.” I always have such high hopes for every Point Horror book, I never learn. It’s like the boyfriend who always cheats on you but you can’t resist always taking him back even though you know it’s all doomed to end in heartbreak and herpes.

But not with Amnesia! Finally, a Point Horror that lives up to my expectations. Although, this does also mean that the next one I read will probably be an even bigger disappointment. But I don’t need to think about that now! Right now I’m free to bask in the awesomeness of Amnesia.

We begin: Alicia wakes up in hospital and she doesn’t know who she is. In fact, you might even say that she has ‘AMNESIA’ (she also has a broken ankle)

Alicia was found having a Britney Spears moment and wandering down a highway covered in blood a few days ago. For some reason, when I picture it she’s also naked. Nobody knows how she got there, and Alicia can’t remember anything about herself (just in case there’s anybody reading this who doesn’t know what the word ‘amnesia’ means.)

Luckily, someone arrives to claim Alicia and take her home – her sister Marta. My alarm bells start ringing pretty much right away. Marta tells Alicia that as well as being sisters, they were bestest friends ever and they always do everything together. Marta is really into the whole sisters thing. In fact, it almost seems as if she doesn’t want Alicia hanging out with any other people at all….

Marta tells Alicia that she was actually in a coma for four months, so she needs to take it easy for a while and won’t be going back to school until next year. Marta will be looking after her, since their parents died in the same accident that Alicia was in. Marta can support her because she has a big important job, although she won’t elaborate further than describing herself as a ‘top executive.’

Marta is generally a bit weird and off. She comes out with outdated, jarring phrases, and never laughs at anything until Alicia laughs first. Alicia thinks that “being around Marta was like watching a dancer who couldn’t keep the beat.” Okay, I think I know my Sinclair Smith, and I’m going to stake a bet right here and now that Marta turns out to be some kind of weird alien thing, possibly with tentacles.

Alicia and Marta’s house is covered in heavy thick curtains, according to Marta because otherwise the sunlight would fade the furniture – hmmm, really Marta? Or do you just not want anybody looking in?

Marta and Alicia have a ten page argument about whether or not Alicia likes pizza. Marta is pretty adamant about not ordering pizza, insisting that they both eat their favourite, liverwurst sandwiches TOGETHER. I’m getting kind of a Kathy Bates in Misery vibe from Marta.

Throughout the house, there are loads of family photographs of Marta and their parents but none of Alicia. Alicia’s room and clothes and lifestyle all appear to be pretty bland. And there’s nothing in the house that’s at all personal to Alicia, all of her clothes even still have price tags attached. Jeez Marta, if you’re going to go to the effort of kidnapping someone and making them believe they’re related to you, you may as well also make the effort to remove a few measly price tags. When Alicia confronts her about it, Marta comes out with a pretty lame excuse, saying that one day Alicia went out and bought all new stuff, giving all her other clothes and furniture away to the Salvation Army. Umm, okay, because teenage girls do that all the time. Marta also explains away the lack of photographs of Alicia in the house, saying she burned them all six months ago after a feud with her mom. Note to Marta: think of some better excuses you fucking lunatic.

About an hour later, Marta magically produces a photo album containing pictures of her and Alicia as children. This is enough to keep Alicia happy for a little while, and she stops worrying that Marta is going to stab her in her sleep and starts to fondly think of Marta as just being a bit quirky. One of the photos even prompts a memory in Alicia, of being at a fairground. But that doesn’t ease her nerves, and Alicia realises that her amnesia must have been brought on by something that she is too frightened to remember. Hey, I’d say being in the car crash that killed your parents is probably traumatic enough to bring on a bit of serious repression, but Alicia seems to think there’s something more important that she’s forgotten.

Alicia has a recurring nightmare about being chased by a dark figure through a tunnel (bad times), and also a recurring dream about a dark haired boy on a motorcycle (sexy times). When I say ‘recurring’, I mean these are sprinkled liberally throughout the book as a padding device.

Alicia overhears Marta on the phone to someone, basically saying that Alicia is away visiting relatives so no one can come see her. Marta then hides the phone away, banning Alicia from making any calls. Alicia confronts Marta about her weird behaviour and asks if she’s keeping something from her– Marta denies it and she’s all, ‘I’m doing this for your own good, blah blah blah.”

Marta smothers Alicia to an insane degree, even controlling exactly what she eats, and insisting that Alicia doesn’t ever leave the house. Whenever Alicia complains, Marta guilt trips her back into silence.

Alicia’s days pass by in an exciting haze of crosswords and word puzzles. Marta is massively offended when Alicia snaps and just can’t take any more puzzles, asking if they could do something else instead. Marta starts grinding her teeth and tugging at her hair and making her eyes glow with rage. Way to over-react, psycho. Alicia realises that over the last few days, Marta has been acting increasingly moody and temperamental.

Whilst Marta is at work one day, Alicia ruminates on how stressed and run down Marta must be, what with her big important job and all, so she decides to run into town to get some groceries for them. Umm, Alicia? Somehow, I don’t think Marta is going to like that much…

So Alicia takes a bunch of money from the money jar and heads out. First stop is the pizza place, where Alicia discovers that she was right and she really does love pizza, take THAT Marta.

A man enters the pizza place, he has a scar on his face and piercing brown eyes, these two physical characteristics make me pretty sure that he’s going to be important to the story in some way. Scar Man follows Alicia into town. Alicia doesn’t remember anything about the town at all. Alicia walks past the library, and spots Marta inside pushing a cart about. Ah ha! So Marta lied about her big important executive job, she really works in the library. Alicia feels kind of sorry for Marta feeling like she has to lie about her job, and decides not to confront her about it.

On a whim, Alicia buys a canary, Okkaaayyy. Because who doesn’t love a canary, right? To digress for a moment, that reminds me of this one time when I was about ten years old, I found a budgie in a park and I took it home and bought a cage for it etc, and I named it Pee Wee Herman and I was so happy. But then the little fucker wouldn’t stop squacking, and after one night I’d had enough so I gave it away to some old lady. Anyhow, this isn’t about me. Alicia buys a canary because there’s something familiar about canaries.

The scar man starts chasing after her and Alicia hides inside a video store, where she bumps into a guy called Mark. He has long, light brown hair and a silver hoop earring. I’m not sure whether or not that means he’s meant to be hot? Was that a good look in the early 90s? Mark lets her hide out in the video store office. Alicia DOES think he’s good looking, so I guess that’s that mystery solved, maybe I’ll just stop reading now. Alicia promises to go visit Mark again soon before rushing back home and getting the canary all settled in.

At home, Alicia’s bored so she starts idly snooping through a few drawers for stuff that might jog her memory– and she finds a briefcase filled with watches, rings, checkbooks and credit cards. I wonder what Marta will say to get out of this one, probably something really lame like ‘oh, I’m just holding them for a friend.’

But no, Marta goes one better than that, and catching Alicia at the moment of her discovery, Marta angrily tells her that Alicia actually stole all this stuff, and that’s the deep dark secret that Marta was trying to keep her from finding out. Marta says that she just wanted to trick Alicia into being a nice, quiet good girl instead which is why she made up all the lies about Alicia’s personality and non existent social life. Supposedly, Alicia was a real troublemaker on top of being a thief, and she even spent a bit of time inside a mental hospital. She also double crossed one of her criminal ‘friends’ in a deal, which would mean big trouble for Alicia if they find her. Really Marta? Are you sure about that?

Marta also spots the canary and generally acts a bit crazy, throwing plates around etc., you know, that’s just how Marta rolls.

Later that night, Alicia goes down to the kitchen, and finds every single window in the living room wide open – and the canary DEAD. It died from the COLD. I guess Marta did this, it’s a pretty passive aggressive way to kill something.

This is enough for Alicia to finally decide to, I dunno, DO something about the situation that she’s in. So she goes to the hospital to speak to the doctor who treated her there and released her into Marta’s care. Dr Kellogg (nice name) tells Alicia that she’s been trying, and failing, to get in touch with Alicia to find out how she is doing, as Alicia was meant to be going back to the hospital on a weekly basis for follow up visits, but Marta has been fobbing them off.

Dr Kellogg tells Alicia that she wasn’t in a coma for four months – she really was only knocked out for a few days. Dun dun dun, Marta has FOR SURE been caught in a lie this time. Alicia realises that Marta must have made up the lie to give her an excuse for taking Alicia out of school and making her stay in the house at all times.

Alicia visits Mark and after a bit of awkwardness involving Mark trying to get his greasy tongue down her throat, she confides in him about the amnesia and all the weirdness with Marta. When Alicia mentions her name, Mark tells her that he knows of Marta – she’s the resident town lunatic. Alicia still seems to think that Marta is her sister despite all the weirdness. Has Alicia never seen Overboard? If it’s good enough for Kurt Russell then it’s good enough for Marta is what I say.

Mark also tells Alicia that people have suspected Marta of being a thief for years – that’s the briefcase full of booty explained then. This is kind of strange, surely if Marta is so well known in town, people would also know about her family.

Alicia finds Marta’s diary, which starts on the day that Alicia returned from the hospital. It starts off on a positive, if sinister note – all glee that Marta’s sister is coming home, and happiness that Marta has the chance to reshape all of Alicia’s memories and personality. However, it quickly descends into a big fat mess of crazed ramblings about Alicia’s ungratefulness etc, climaxing with Marta’s decision to kill Alicia. I guess it’s pretty handy that Alicia found that diary, it sure pushed the plot on.

Marta appears in the doorway holding a big ol’ carving knife. She’s PISSED. And bitter – “’Everything always turned out all right for you. Off you went with your friends. You forgot all about me. Well, it’s not going to turn out like that this time.” Marta and Alicia have a bit of a tussle, until Marta gets the upper hand and trips Alicia down the stairs before her dragging her into the basement . Marta locks Alicia in there whilst she decides how she’s going to kill her. Because it is best not to rush the murder of your only sister, it’s kind of like losing your virginity, you’ll regret it if everything isn’t just perfect.

Alicia falls asleep to the soothing noise of Marta rambling insanely, and wakes up hungry. Good news: Marta has left her a covered dish of something. Bad news: under it’s cover, the dish contains Alicia’s dead canary. Yum. What, no ketchup? Alicia realises that Marta is going to starve her to death. Hmm, interesting choice, Marta. Although probably not the method I’d choose, I’d go for something a bit more hands on.

Alicia finds her bag hidden in the basement. It contains her school ID card, which names her as being Alicia Fisher rather than Alicia Taylor. Also in her bag are some pictures of her friends and the dark haired motorcycle guy she keeps dreaming about. This prompts Alicia’s memory – he’s her boyfriend of two years, Lou. For some reason, she also remembers that he hates broccoli. I doubt this will turn out to be relevant.

Alicia has another memory –Marta is NOT her sister. Well, duuuhhh.

The pair were childhood friends and they were so close that they used to pretend to be sisters, until Marta’s parents moved to Grimly. The visits to each other tailed off when Marta got put in a mental hospital. I kind of feel bad for Marta actually.

Later, Alicia wakes up again and hears a detective speaking to Marta – they’re evidently trying to find Alicia. This guy finds Alicia in the basement – and he’s Scar Man, that dude that was following her earlier. He’s a private investigator that her father hired to find her.

Alicia’s relief at being rescued is short lived when Marta creeps up on Scar Man and gets him in the back of the head with an iron skillet. POW! This book rules. Alicia runs out of the house towards the town with a CRAZED Marta in hot pursuit.

At the carnival, Marta reaches Alicia and starts strangling her, shaking her ‘like a rag doll.’ Hehe, I’m kinda picturing when Homer Simpson strangles Bart here. Alicia escapes a bit, and there’s a lot of struggling and running etc., and it’s all terribly exciting (I’m actually not being sarcastic.)

Mark arrives with the police and Scar Man, who’s recovered from his iron skillet bashing, and they rescue Alicia in the nick of time.

Alicia gets taken back to the hospital to have her injuries treated whilst she waits for her father to pick her up. It turns out her dad is a famous photojournalist, so he’d been off in the Amazon doing important photojournalist stuff when Alicia initially went missing.

The thing that really sent Marta around the bend was her parents dying in a car accident a couple of months back – poor thing was just lonely. Alicia remembers how she ended up in the hospital the first time around – Marta popped up from her hiding place in the back of Alicia’s car whilst Alicia was driving. She somehow managed to escape from Marta’s clutches that time around, and someone found Alicia wandering around. Hmmm, that’s a pretty good coincidence for Marta that Alicia did lose her memory then.

Alicia has a lovely reunion with her dad and her boyfriend, and Marta gets caught and put into a mental hospital. Hurrah! Three cheers for secure psychiatric units!

And then it ends on a really weird note, three months later, with Alicia finishing a painting called 'Amnesia' and vowing to put the whole terrible exeprience behind her. OK that's fine, but literally the last paragraph of the book is just this janitor guy looking at the painting and being all, 'tsk, modern art, what a load of rubbish.' Um, WTF. I can't help but feel that I'm missing something here.

In conclusion: I fucking love this book, it actually made me so happy to read a Point Horror that is genuinely good. I think one of the things that really works in it’s favour is that it’s pretty much a two hander between Marta and Alicia, rather than there being a whole bunch of random red herring characters to make my blood boil. Even though I was a teensy bit sad that my tentacle monster prediction didn’t come true, but I’ve moved on from that now.

Also, one other thing I did notice – I didn't mention any of it in my recap because it has nothing to do with the plot, but Sinclair Smith has a pretty angry attitude towards hospitals. She kind of makes the doctors all bumbling incompetent fools with big fake smiles and they make this big deal about the hospital not bothering to check any of Marta’s ID before letting her take Alicia home, and Alicia's dad rants on for a while about how he's going to sue the hospital. It kind of makes me wonder if maybe something similar happened to Sinclair Smith. I’m sure this sort of thing is a lot more common than we realise.

Over to Amazon:

0 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
IT CHANGED MY LIFE!, June 9, 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: Amnesia (Paperback)

Uh oh, I think this reviewer might have a touch of the ‘Marta’s’. The excitable caps and the declaration of its life changing qualities just screams someone who's desperate for a friend to keep in the basement and feed dead canaries to. I also like the way that 0 out of 3 people found it helpful, ouch.

Next time: next week is exciting as I have a three book anthology speeding it’s way to me in the post. In it is : April Fools, Trick or Treat and Blood Sinister. I haven’t decided which one I’m doing first yet, but I’m slightly leaning towards Blood Sinister just because I haven’t done any Celia Rees yet but I have gorged myself on RTC.


Anonymous said...

Huh, so the broccoli really wasn't important? I don't know how that would work, though. I was figuring maybe her "boyfriend" would turn up, but then he snarfles down some broccoli and Alicia is like "Here we go again!"

Also no way, since when was Blood Sinister a Point Horror?! *runs and checks* My copy just says Point. You - you're not really my sister, are you?!

Farah said...

Ah the Amazon review was worth a facebook status, love it!