From the author of the international best-seller The Stone Man, shortlisted for Audible UK's Book of the Year Award 2015. In the late 1990s, a laptop was found in a service station just outside of Manchester. It contained a digital journal entitled 'TO THE FINDER: OPEN NOW TO CHANGE YOUR LIFE!' Now, for the first time, that infamous diary is being published in its entirety. It's 1998. The Internet age is still in its infancy. Google has just been founded. Eighteen-year-old supermarket shelf-stacker Nigel Carmelite has decided that he's going to become a vigilante. There are a few problems: how is he going to even find crime to fight on the streets of Derbyshire? How will he create a superhero costume - and an arsenal of crime-fighting weaponry - on a shoestring budget? And will his history of blackouts and crippling social inadequacy affect his chances? This is Nigel's account of his journey; part diary, part deluded self-help manual, tragically comic and slowly descending into what is arguably Luke Smitherd's darkest and most violent novel. What do you believe in? And more importantly, should you?
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Absolutely adored this story. So many laugh out loud moments, it makes you want to share them with someone. At times absolutely hilarious and others so heart wrenching, this was such an engaging and enjoyable story. Can't recommend it highly enough, you won't be disappointed.
Regular readers of Luke Smitherd may find themselves checking the cover of this book to make sure he actually wrote it because it is unlike any of his other works. First, there is nothing paranormal or supernatural about it; second, it is laugh-out-loud funny at some points; and, finally, the main character is a disturbed teenage boy who wants to become the world’s first “real” superhero.
Nigel Carmelite is an eighteen-year-old boy who hasn’t had an easy life. There are allusions to problems in his past, but most of them are barely mentioned (although there is a very sad story about a boy and his bike) and their impacts on Nigel’s life are left to the reader to determine. We learn about his current life: he works in a supermarket; he is a loner, mostly because he doesn’t know how to interact with other people; he has a crush on a girl at work; and he is keeping a diary to record his journey from “normal” guy to superhero so that others can learn from him and follow in his footsteps. He believes this is his destiny.
But Nigel isn’t a “normal” person, whatever “normal” is supposed to mean in his world or ours. He is damaged. The circumstances of his early years took their toll on him and he never received the help he needed. He created his own world where he was the good guy and he was the guy who was always right. He couldn’t exist any other way because “normal” life hurt too much. If Nigel lived in the US, he is the type of person who would shoot up a public place and then turn the gun on himself, and later, people would say he was “quiet” and “always did his job” but was difficult to get to know because he was so ill-at-ease around others.
Some people have commented that their dislike of Nigel hurt their ability to enjoy the book fully. That is unfortunate. If all a person does is read the words on the page, Nigel is a jerk. He writes with disdain about most other people he knows. If you read between the lines, however, you can see he insults others because he thinks they are getting in the way of him fulfilling his destiny.
He also knows the rest of the world sees him as a loser, if they even notice he exists, but he rarely lets himself acknowledge that reality. You can see this in a few diary entries where he talks about how stupid he is (quite vehemently), but he always comes back to blaming other people for his troubles. He HAS to be right or he can’t be the superhero. By putting down everyone else, he is building himself up into the person he believes he really is.
The book is very well-written. Nigel is a person you can empathize with because there is a small part of him in all of us. Yes, it is humorous in many places, but there are also moments that may leave you in tears. The most impressive thing, however, is how incidents in Nigel’s life are shown to repeat themselves (in different contexts), forming patterns that turned him into the person he is. Some of these are obvious, but others are very subtle so the readers are left to discover them and determine for themselves how they impacted Nigel. That is not an easy thing for an author to do, but here, it is done beautifully.
This book covers a very short time period in Nigel’s life, but by the end, we know everything we need to know about him and why he needs to be a superhero—because he does need it. He may come across as a jerk at first, but that is just covering up his insecurities and lack of self-worth. His diary is funny because he is so earnest about the things he is writing, even though they are preposterous. Nigel could never comprehend that we are laughing AT him, not with him. The only way he knows to make his life worth something is to become a superhero, which, ultimately, is the saddest part of the story and leads to unintended, heartbreaking consequences.
If you don’t fully appreciate the brilliance of this book at first (I didn’t), read it again. You will catch things you missed the first time and will, hopefully, fully appreciate the skill that went into crafting it. There are too many Nigel Carmelite’s out there. Most don’t try to become superheroes; most live their lives quietly and alone and we never know they exist. That is the true message we should learn from this book.
There are Nigels all over, but most of us are too caught up in our own daily lives to see them or attempt to help them. Maybe we should try a little bit more. Maybe we’re too busy to see their hands desperately reaching out to us or maybe they’ve given up. Nigel is virtually screaming for help throughout this book. No one hears him or maybe they are too busy laughing at him to notice. So, in the only way he knows, he resorts to helping himself. He adapts to the circumstances of his world—and loses so much in the process.