The String Diaries by Stephen Lloyd Jones
The string diaries is a debut novel by Stephen Jones spanning back through time to tell the story of one particular family and the monster that has plagued, chased and killed them over the years.
The story begins in the current time where we are introduced to Hannah whilst she drives frantically to a safehouse out at the foot of Snowdonia. She’s frantic because she doesn’t know if her safety, or the bolthole she’s heading for, has been compromised and because asleep in the back of the car is her daughter Leah and travelling in the front, seriously injured, her husband Nate. For over a hundred years Leah’s family have been at the mercy of a man called Jakab. A man blessed with long life. One of the Hosszu Eletek, a small and insular group of people, whispered about and eventually becoming a story of folklore. Jakab is Hungarian but runs away from his family after a courting ritual ends in humiliation. Disowned by his own family and hunted by his own kind Jakab’s story is related to us as we jump backwards and forwards in time. Basically the story is a story of survival for Hannah’s family and a story of obsession for Jakab. A game of cat and mouse takes place between the two. I guess you could call this a thriller, the final chapters definitely jump into a little bit of horror and obviously there are the historical and folklore elements to the tale. I did enjoy this, it kept me absorbed but I definitely had niggles and I can’t say that I loved it although I would pick up a follow up novel.
The story jumps between different timelines going back to approx 1870 to look at Jakabs origins, then jumping to the 1970s where we look at Hannah’s parents and then to the here and now as we watch Hannah trying to keep ahead of the monster. These aren’t the only stories but are the main ones. I enjoyed this aspect of the story telling. I like jumping between different timelines. There was no confusion involved and the different threads were easy to follow, I think the main issue that readers usually have with this style of writing is being pulled out of the storyline they’re currently reading, just as it reaches a critical point, to start another part of the story. But, I wouldn’t say this was a problem. All of the stories are, to be honest, quite interesting and the style gradually pieces together the history of both Jakab and Hannah’s family.
The settings are quite well described. I particularly enjoyed jumping back in time to the 1870s although I could have frankly used a little more time in that era. If you’re looking for lots of historical detail then you probably won’t find it here, for example the style of language doesn’t change at all but I think that makes it easier to read.
The main characters and Jakab and Hannah. The others are only very briefly sketched and add little to the story, particularly Nate (Hannah’s husband). Jakab is basically an out and out maniac! On top of this, and why others are so disadvantaged, is Jakab can shapeshift and insinuate himself into other people’s lives by effectively looking exactly like their nearest and dearest. I did like this idea – it’s pretty chilling to think of somebody actually spending time with you who might not be who you think!! Creepy at all!
Now, to my little niggles. I struggled a little bit coming to terms with Jakab’s character. I think we perhaps needed to spend more time with him when he was younger as I really didn’t get a feel for why he became such a horrible character. I also didn’t really buy into the one love of his life and the ultimate reason why he basically spends the next century stalking and terrorising this particular family. I understand that he’s a bit ‘not right’ but it did feel like a leap of faith – or maybe a bit rushed – when his ‘bad’ person came charging to the fore. I also, was puzzled about the Hosszu Eletek themselves and wanted a bit more background into their origins.
I thought Hannah sometimes behaved in odd ways. One particular example of this is when she takes time out to go on a horseride with her daughter and a man who is virtually a stranger, whilst leaving her husband behind almost on his deathbed. Sorry, but that part didn’t sit well for me, it just didn’t feel real. There are also other moments with Hannah that also grated on me a little bit but I’ll leave it there. Also, as the story progresses we have another group of people brought into the story. A third element. A group of people who have spent their time hunting and destroying the Hosszu Eletek. To be honest I didn’t think this particular element brought much to the story. I think the cat and mouse chase was enough or at least it was for me. I guess my main problem though was with Hannah and Jakab and a certain lack of motivation coupled with a lack of passion. I thought the story got off to a good start and you could feel the tension but as it progressed the tension dissipated somewhat. I didn’t really feel scared or anxious. I didn’t feel like Hannah always behaved the way I think you would under such circumstances and I wanted to feel more convinced of Jakab’s actions.
So, criticisms aside, and these probably seem harsher than I really intended. I did enjoy this story and thought it was a very promising debut.
I received a copy of this from the publisher through Netgalley – for which my thanks. The above is my own opinion.