Review: The Venus Complex / Author: Barbie Wilde / Publisher: Comet Press / Release Date: Out Now
Best known for her role as the Female Cenobite in Hellraiser 2, Barbie Wilde is also an author who has contributed short stories to anthologies as varied as Hellbound Hearts, Phobophobia, Mutation Nation and the Mammoth Book of Body Horror. As might be expected, her writing tends towards the transgressive, and in its mix of psychological horror, art and eroticism, her debut novel, The Venus Complex is no exception.
After killing his cheating wife in a car crash, art history professor Michael Friday returns home from his own hospitalisation in a state of deep disenchantment with life. Becoming obsessed with forensic psychologist Dr Elene Sheppard, Friday orchestrates a sex murder spree with an art signature, so he can get close to Elene, but he doesn’t count on a rival for her affections in the form of Frank, the detective investigating the murders.
Although The Venus Complex had been compared to American Psycho, mainly because its first-person narration draws you inside the mind of the serial killer protagonist, Barbie Wilde’s novel is distinctly Hitchcockian in its portrayal of murderous obsession. In some ways it is a combination of Psycho and Vertigo. Friday, like Norman Bates, is identifiable up to a point, as a social outsider, and, like Scotty in Vertigo, his psychosis takes the form of a romantic obsession. But like Hitchcock’s disturbed protagonists, Friday eventually leaves reality behind as he goes deep down the road of aberration.
The Venus Complex, as the title suggests, is an erotically charged novel, and there are some passages that give the likes of Anais Nin and Alina Reyes a run for their money. What marks Wilde’s work as different is that she is writing from the male point of view. It is interesting that she does not condemn Friday overtly. This is not a feminist diatribe about male sexual violence; rather she challenges the reader to find his or her own cut-off point in terms of empathy for Friday, which feels like a much more transgressive approach. Friday is, however, ultimately deluded in his assessment of Elene’s feelings for him, and we get the feeling that his final revenge is a fantasy, which then makes us question what we have read previously – how much of it really happened and how much only exists in Friday’s mind?
These ambiguities aside, The Venus Complex is also blackly comic and offers in its character’s disenchantment with the world around him some witty and acerbic social commentary. Wilde is definitely one to watch.