Well, here is a double-special today. (I guess it also works as an apology for not posting last week?) Normally I try to review books individually, but since most of my comments for Caroline Kepnes’ duology (series? trilogy? anyone know if she’ll write another one with Joe and company?) are the same it would be redundant typing it up multiple times. Don’t worry, as usual no spoilers will be found here. I just consider the books to be one installment after another showcasing Joe Goldberg’s life that makes up one story, so it makes sense reviewing them together.
Let’s start off with the wonderful yet optional presentation of the books: audiobook. My first and only recommendation if you are even remotely interested in this story is to LISTEN TO BOTH STORIES VIA THE AUDIOBOOKS. Santino Fontana is appropriately creepy as the narrator. I forget if Kepnes ever describes what Joe looks like, but with Santino Fontana voicing Joe I just imagine animated Hans (Fontana is the voice actor for Hans from Frozen) It actually works out really well—spoilers for Frozen for anyone who has not watched it. Both characters are both creepers, more or less. Except that Joe is much more intense, and possibly even creepier if not necessarily more evil.
Actually though, aside from the whole voice actor thing, it actually makes sense to listen to the audiobooks as opposed to reading them. You is written from a 2nd person POV where there is plenty of stream of conscious monologues from Joe and the story just becomes intensified when the reader listening to Joe conveying his story. While Hidden Bodies is written in 3rd person POV much of Joe’s stream of conscious remains (it is a characteristic quirk of Joe) so it will make much more sense when the reader is enjoying the story as told by Joe.
Aside from that bonus, Joe has an interesting voice that makes me shudder at how creepy and obnoxious he is sometimes, and other times say weird comments that make me want to chuckle if not laugh out loud. While I personally never find Joe’s brand of craziness endearing—I actually find it rather nauseating by the end, there is really no dull times with Joe. He is simply too abstract and wacky at that. (Oh, and the creepiness. Except I think that everyone should know by now)
In You, Joe works in a bookshop when he spots someone that he likes—one Guinevere to be exact. And then being Joe, he of course goes not only the extra mile but the extra continent to figure out who Guinevere (Beck for short) is. Along the way he also discovers plenty about Beck before he even properly meets her and uses this advantage to make himself likeable. I won’t spoil his methods for everyone, but let’s just say that while some of them are quite conventional, others are just rather extreme versions of what most people will do.
I think Kepnes’s comments about social media and technology through Joe’s quest for true love are rather prominent in the first book. After reading the book, it really makes me wonder how easily accessible information is nowadays and that while technology can be awfully convenient, there is a dangerous side that can lead to very unfortunate consequences. At the end of the day, it is about common sense and awareness when using the Internet and privacy and all that good stuff, but I think Kepnes does an excellent job illustrating the potential disasters when a super keen detective stumbles across someone who is rather careless about their privacy on social media. Of course, it is also highly exaggerated in order to keep the plot moving so some suspense of disbelief is needed (Beck is really stupid with technology, that’s all I am saying).
Between Joe’s own brand of dedication and the danger of technology, this is not a typical thriller. Kepnes can probably leave it at that since Joe’s personality can more than compensate for the thrilling factor, but she also throws in multiple major characters that have skeletons in their closets. And the skeletons are not tiny either, leading to some devastating consequences for Joe, Beck, and a host of other characters.
Of course, this beautiful dream has to end eventually which leads to book 2: Hidden Bodies. This time, Joe races across the country to seek a particular lady in LA. Best part, Joe doesn’t stay in LA either—he ends up in places in Malibu, Mexico, Hollywood amongst other places. There are plenty of locations where Joe is hopping around, and I find that Kepnes does a very interesting interpretation of all the locations.
As for Joe, he is very serious about his quest for love and does whatever he can, including to resorting to new professions and calling people “friends” that he would have never paid attention to in the previous installment. He even starts becoming a hotshot at Hollywood (somewhat). Some might call it his brand of resilience and continuation of his detective work to blend it whenever possible; I call it out-of-character.
The best part in my opinion? He meets his match in a girl called Amy Adams (clearly nothing to do with the talented Amy Adams that we all know of) from the beginning of Hidden Bodies; this keeps me on my toes for the duration of it. It is super refreshing to finally have someone not only sees what Joe is doing, but also accidentally/not-so-accidentally one-up him so he is the one that becomes frustrated with their antics.
Another great thing is that Kepnes does not forget about Joe’s adventures in the first book, and there are many details throughout the first book that haunt Joe in various ways and actually impact his life for at least a few chapters. I like the continuity and it is also interesting to see how Joe will deal with his previous mistakes so that he can win his happily ever after.
Unfortunately, I also had multiple issues with both books, and luckily (or unluckily) both books share some issues.
First of all, the body count. (This is not a spoiler, the summary did say Joe will resort to murder) It is not the crazy amount of people that Joe knocked off that I am annoyed with, but rather how routine and easy it becomes for Joe throughout the both books. Like I said, while there are things that haunt Joe in the second book and he has to worry about the consequences for a little while, overall both books normalizes the act of murdering and stashing away bodies. Murder becomes one of the skills or talents that Joe has, and again it is not something that necessary endears me to this character. There are multiple gratuitous sex scenes which don’t add a lot to the character or the plot, so it was sometimes tiring having to read all of them.
Joe is the anti-hero that everyone loves (or loves to hate), but I never see it. I just see Joe for what he is: a messed-up stalker/murderer who happens to say interesting things occasionally. However, I don’t find him either fascinating or particularly witty or a genius. But I can’t help but feel that it is creepy to idolize such a character since essentially all the things that he has done are awful and for pretty selfish reasons. While he is an entertaining character that makes a good read, I can’t connect to Joe and I find it hard to reconcile all the hype with Joe’s character and what my impression of his character is.
Other than that, I find both books to be entertaining reads (or listens, since I listened to both audio performances) and I do recommend everyone at least experiencing You, and continuing with Hidden Bodies if they are interested in more of Joe’s life. I am uncertain if Kepnes will come out with a third book regarding Joe Goldberg, although I personally hope not since where Joe ends up in Hidden Bodies is already pretty weird and I cannot imagine where she would take him for a third book that will make it a compelling read again (Plus if there are any more murders I would scream in frustration since enough is enough—the guy really needs to get caught soon).