Rohypnol by Andrew Hutchinson

9781741668223, Random House Vintage, 2007 (Aus, Kindle)

Rohypnol is about bad people. They follow the rules of the ‘new punk’, meaning that they can take what they want, when they want it. They are young, male, rich, and live by the motto – ‘f**k people’. The group’s main activity is spiking the drinks of women and raping them. Who would want to read about this? The book is horrific, sickening and difficult. It is also skillful, probing and fresh. Andrew Hutchinson gives his characters no motivational aspects – no sob-story childhoods, no incidents that made them what they are. The narrator just repeats that he is a bad person and knows it. It is challenging and stimulating for the reader to fill in the gaps. It allows a deep engagement with the voice and the narrative. Like Lolita, it both sickens and compels you. Without giving away the ending, a certain amount of justice is performed, but not to all. By the close you don’t understand the character any better, and put the book down with a sense of horror that there are really human beings who exist like that.

Andrew Hutchinson, speaking at the Newcastle Young Writers’ Festival, said that he wrote the book as a way of trying to understand something he simply couldn’t comprehend. One gets the sense that he came out of it still baffled by men who ‘date rape’. One theme that emerges throughout the ‘new punk’ spiels, and the rules of the group, is that of consumerist society and materialism being an influence on such behaviour. The characters are young, with an ‘I want it all and I want it now’ attitude. They are independent from their families, and would even turn on each other. This also thus reflects Western individualism.

Rohypnol is for readers who can handle grit, and who like to be challenged and stimulated by their literature. It will be very interesting to see Hutchinson’s skills develop in his next novel. After a book with such a strong character voice, I’d love to see him flex his prose muscles on a character/characters with more constructed depth, whilst maintaining that baffled search for meaning through aspects of society’s senselessness.

10 thoughts on “Rohypnol by Andrew Hutchinson

  1. Hi Angela, just read through some of your reviews. Like I said before, we would really like you to contribute – I now see you’d be grand for covering new fiction. Please get in touch through the blog as I’ve lost your email address. – M

  2. Having just come across your (two – will read more) book reviews here, I’m given to several persuasive thoughts, and questions, as a response.The persuasive thought for me is these are engaging reviews. I admit to some confusion on account of that. Sometimes a review is enough, and there’s no need to read the book! Then again, a review can drive a person to read the book so to explore what the reviewer says. It’s a heck of a thing to place upon an author, I would have thought. …as though to colour the entry way, and if you walk through that, ie read the book, you’ll only ever see (or listen to) or effectively regard the whole book as by the reviewer’s tint. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or not. And I don’t mean disrespect for that; in fact, not having thought this through, it could be an incredibly powerful determinant: because if the author can’t take us as a reader beyond what the reviewer has provided us, then perhaps that’s the bottom line: the review told of the capacity of the book, and one should read only the reviewer’s work and not that particular work of the author.To read such a book – and such a review: what would be the “gaps” then the reader fills in? And is it worth it for the reader to attempt it?This is bloody good, challenging stuff that you’ve given, over and above the review of this book, at least for me in coming across your blog.At the end of the day, I don’t know if I’ll read this book or this author, but I’ll certainly read your reviews.I don’t know if that’s a good thing for literature, for authors, for ideas, or even for me in all of that, as a reader. But I do respect what you’ve achieved regarding your own skills. Robert.

  3. Madeleine – I will be in touch.Robert – I subscribe to a very good Aus publication called ‘Australian Book Review’ and a lot of the time indeed I read a wonderful review but do not follow up and buy the book. I think reviewing is an art form on its own. However, when I review a book that I truly want people to read, that I believe in, I think it would come across in my writing.Then again, reading is so subjective. I try as much as possible to be honest in my experience of the book, taking into consideration my literary knowledge, previous reading experiences, and studies of literature and writing. There will always be people who disagree with my reviews, then there will be others who might take them as gospel, so much so, as you mentioned, that they may not read the book at all. In a way I am glad to bring knowledge of literature one may not have otherwise picked up off the shelf. But I also enjoy it when people challenge my opinions and help my own knowledge to grow. Most often they do this personally through email or messages (as opposed to comments here) but I always consider their opinions. Many have read more widely than I. But then again, many do not see the things I may see.Overall, if I have written something that stimulates the mind and invites you to read more, whether my own work or the author’s, then I am happy.:-)

  4. Hi Ange,This certainly seems like a raw and gritty read. Do you believe Andrew when he says that is why he wrote the book? Perhaps it was also a case of the lure of the original… plus a good reason for exploration into the sinister with a safety net and morals in tact lol.’They can take what they want, when they want it’ is a strong concept. I agree there are strong links to ‘consumerism’, but I’m not sure the word covers the issue fully. As I understand it ‘consumerism’ is (inherently) linked to personal happiness. Are they happy? Do they really do it because it makes them happy? Are they searching for happiness? Likely it is my definition that is at fault or not right in this scenario. I’d be interested to see your somewhat more expert response though (-:While on the subject, I think an interesting way of looking at consumerism today and making sense of it would be to look at an opposing trend such as the decline of temperance in society. Brings in a religious layer to the argument anyway…But a conundrum: what if consumerism is a false god and making people deluded… as RD would argue….And the decline of temperance is related to the decline of religious values in changing society… (which means less delusion?). This would mean less delusion on the one hand from declining religious value from the former religion, but more on the other from the new one (consumerism). But to throw a spanner in the works surely temperance has got to be a good thing… from the philosophical and societal point of view anyway… which is getting back to a religious argument.Lol just making mischief 🙂

  5. literaryminded, I’m glad you’re happy. I must say, I’ve read a shitload of reviews over the years and never really asked myself the questions I did here; no – wait. I did, now I come to think of it. Most reviews in the papers are self-serving. The reviewer can often even write about another book, entirely – one they hoped or wished was written, rather than the one they [supposedly] read.This self-serving element I’d long been used to I think had thrown me off. It’s not always the case there, but it is all too common, and numbs the senses. I have to think on this more yet, but I’m wondering now if in fact it’s been the papers’ mindlessness – no, characterlessness, spiritlessness, backbonelessness, or more accurately still, sheer commercial-mindfulness – which has prompted me to question this. I don’t want to blow smoke up your arse but the juxtaposition, in my mind, of (mostly) that from the papers with your reviews has been enlivening.I do agree reviewing is an art form. FWIW, I also think it like art is about communication. May I take a moment to share this thought, which I’m more certain about: communication is about communing. That requires or is built on lots of things: trust, in some way – be good to hear your thoughts and feelings on this given you are in that position as a reviewer – and also I believe vulnerability, along with the what may be called the ‘big stuff’ like vision and empathy and, ultimately, power (a distillation of those things..?)Power can be positive or negative. That’s very subjective. Which comes back to what happened when I read your two reviews. I should read more of what you write here; will do. Thanks Robert

  6. ‘Do you believe Andrew when he says that is why he wrote the book? Perhaps it was also a case of the lure of the original…’Andrew was on a panel discussing this at NYWF. Of course a writer would defend his motivations for writing such a text, but he seemed pretty genuine to me Actually, why don’t you ask him? I’ll ask nicely for him to post a comment).I have read a few other reviews of the novel in recent weeks and many of them do raise this question. Tali Polichtuk in ‘Australia Book Review (Summer 07-08)’ says ‘… the employment of shock for shock’s sake undermines the novel’s potential for more pointed social critique’. She does point out positively though, that Hutchinson is a master of dialogue.Perhaps ‘consumerism’ doesn’t cover it all. In fact, you could look at the novel in many contexts – within a worldwide history of masculine possession and agression dating back to caveman days. But the style in which it is written (shock, blase narrator etc., emphasis on the ‘new punk’) does place it in a very contemporary mindset. It also fits nicely into my theory of young writers from Western countries trying to find meaning beneath all the surfaces and choices! Hutchinson puts the frightening prospect out there that some people become surfaces themselves.And yes, the average Joe who expects to become self-actualised by buying a bigger TV and faster car, or even the latest dress style is worshipping a false God. Buying things coats the knowledge that we are all just food for the worms just the same as religion does. Thank you for bringing up that point :-)And on your 2nd comment Robert – yes, reviewing is communication. And it’s interesting that you meantion vulnerability. I think as a reader I am ‘vulnerable’. Obviously I wouldn’t be so involved in reading and writing if it didn’t have such an effect of me. So the subjectivity in my reviews that is combined with my professional opinion based on experience, acts to make my own reader engaged with my emotional processes of reading/reviewing the book. Is that sort of what you mean? It’s actually exciting when I think about it. That communication between etxt, emotion, and the connection with other people.Matthew, thanks for dropping by. I’m quite swamped at the moment, perhaps try me next year in regards to your book.

  7. Hi guys,Thanks for reading the review of my book. Angela asked me to post a comment in response to this, though there’s not really any questions for me to answer. One thing I would say, in response to the ‘shock for shock’s sake’ suggestion in the ABR, I absolutel don’t think this is the case. In fact, this is something I actively avoided in writing this book. As it is such controversial subject matter, the risk is that you can go too far – becoming shock for shock’s sake. That, to me, is, as the reviewer points out, watering down the point of the story. At the same time, if you go the other way and don’t show anything, you are not treating the seriousness of this subject in an adequate manner. I think the latter would be more of an injustice. The way I approached the more shocking scenes of this book was with honesty. These scenes are shocking and horrible, but I don’t dwell on the detail – part of the reason for the fast, minimal approach (this is also a representation of the society in which they live and the speed at which things get out of hand).The approach I took is based, in part, on an interview I read with French film director Gaspar Noe, who most notably directed the controversial ‘Irreversible’. Similarly, Noe was criticised for glorifying violence and subjecting the audience to horrific things. But his point is that Hollywood has long made violence a joke. It’s all Tarantino-esque, cartoonish violence that has become so commonplace and normal in our movie viewing, that violence is often a joke. Noe’s point in his film was if you are ever near violence, if you were near such horrific actions, you would not want to see the hero gun down more people or fight more guys. Violence, in reality, is horrific. It makes you sick as you replay it in your head, your hands shake, your heart races – there is nothing appealing about seeing someone beaten unconscious – let alone killed.So Noe’s films are horrific and graphic, but his point is they are honest. This is similar in Rohypnol. Yes, there are some full-on scenes in there, but if you were in this room, seeing what these guys are doing, you would not want to be there. You would want it to stop. So I don’t think these are shock for shock’s sake, this is a honest representation of how horrific these things are. The point is that you are supposed to feel uncomfortable when reading these scenes. You should want them to just stop. In that context, I don’t in any way think the scenes are pure shock. They have a point, and that point has to be delivered honestly. Or you’re watering down the overall message. ‘Do you believe Andrew when he says that is why he wrote the book? Perhaps it was also a case of the lure of the original…’The lure of the original? I don’t know that I like the implication of this statement. This suggestion, to me, might not have been made had you read the book. The crimes these guys commit are among the most terrible things one human can do to another. Why would someone do this? How can you get to a point in your life where this, in your mind, is a valid course of action? But it’s a crime that’s increasing, more and more cases are reported every year. There must be some societal factors driving this. There is something in the morality of today’s youth that is slowly getting more distant from that of the past. The argument the book puts forward is not an answer or a solution on how to stop this happening, but it is designed to make the reader question these factors and be more aware of them in everyday life.Only through trying to understand that which we don’t comprehend can we ever get closer to a more enlightened and unified society. For me, this is what all art is essentially trying to achieve.

  8. Thanks Andrew. I appreciate your contribution to the discussion 🙂 I love your statement that art is about trying to comprehend that which we don’t understand. Much art is most certainly this. I also think, however, that some art is about trying to express things we DO understand in order to communicate their beauty or complexity to others. In a way perhaps this is out of frustration that others do NOT understand those same things… which is hard for the artist to understand.Which brings us back to your point. Interesting.

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