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Book review: "Psychros" by Charlene Elsby

CW: suicide

(Very slight spoilers)

In "Psychros" by Charlene Elsby, published by Clash Books, a woman has recently lost her lover to suicide. Our protagonist does not want to follow a typical social script around how to act in the aftermath of such an occurrence. She pursues increasingly sexualised and/or violent encounters with men around her.

This character seems to betray determination to challenge some of the received wisdom around suicide. For example, whereas many people are moving away from the phrases such as "he committed suicide" to "he died by suicide", the protagonist describes suicide as an active, decisive thing. We're situated in the anger of this person towards the man who has died, but unlike a typical narrative where anger is tinged with emotions like sadness or even guilt, there is a sense that the narrator thinks the deceased has gotten "one-up" on her. There's even a certain pettiness, such as when she rails against him having left a dirty cup out before his death.

As the narrator's encounters become more violent, her musings about unfair treatment of women are juxtaposed with absurdist relish against her (fantasy of?) violence towards men she encounters. However, unlike, say, "Dirty Weekend" by Helen Zahavi, I don't think we are led to believe the victims (particularly as the book progresses) are fully deserving of their fate. Elsby is slow to let the reader off the hook.

We spend a lot of time in the protagonist's head, as she spends more time (or words anyway) thinking about gender politics than her deceased lover, though a mantra of F*ck him regularly breaks through the mire of her thoughts. If you have the stomach for this kind of transgressive fiction and can dissociate the protagonist's musings from the opinions by the author, there are some caustic gems of moments throughout. You may even recognise some thoughts not so terribly unlike something you've caught yourself thinking.

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