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.