Review: Black Chalk by Christopher J. Yates

April 7, 2014 Mystery/Suspense, Random House, Review 7

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Random House UK (April 1, 2014)
  • ISBN-10: 1846557283
  • Source: Publisher

Six friends, students at Oxford University, create a game. The game is made up of a series of actions, a truth or dare of sorts.  The consequences of failing to complete the actions start off quiet simple and gradually become more arduous. Buy-in to participate in the Game are quite high, so as the stakes are raised higher, friendships that were once strong are shattered.  Now, fourteen years later, the reader knows something went horribly wrong. Just what it was is unknown, the reader must follow a very unreliable narrator to discover the terrible outcome of this seemingly innocent game. Years later, the remaining players are coming back together to play the final round.

Perhaps because I recently read Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, but I couldn’t help but drawn comparisons between the two.  They both involved a group of students at an illustrious university performing actions that test an individual, both involving the need to fit in and be part of the group. That said, Black Chalk does stand on its own, with a unique storyline and twists and turns in the plot.

The reader goes in quite blind; the narrator isn’t revealed until well into the novel. Many other details are revealed in parts and pieces, the novel itself an elaborate mind game that the reader must discover in their own.  To do so, the reader must have patience. Perhaps too much.

Honestly, it took me over 100 pages to become invested in this novel. The narrator was just too unreliable for me.  Not knowing the identity, or the heavy consequences of the game from the beginning, I felt that this information should have been relayed in a more timely manner. Instead, I felt as though my time and patience were strung out, waiting so desperately for a pay off at the end. While there were a few big twists and turns revealed throughout the novel, I didn’t feel the pay off was great enough to warrant the patience it demanded.

I read other reviews of this title before writing mine, a practice I usually avoid. I was stunned to see that my feelings about this book are so different than the experience of others. I don’t regret or feel bad about my feelings; reading a book is a deeply personal experience, each reader getting something else out of the book.  In these other reviews,  I see that others adored the very aspects of the novel that I found lacking. Could it be the timing of my read of the book? Or perhaps this just isn’t the title for me.

All this said, I will leave it up to you to decide whether or not you will pick up this title. It is full of twists and turns, games played on the characters as well as a reader. Give it a chance, perhaps you will have a wholly different experience than I did.

Thank you to TLC Book Tours for providing me the opportunity to review this book. Please check out the other stops in this tour to see other opinions/reviews of this title.

7 Responses to “Review: Black Chalk by Christopher J. Yates”

  1. Christopher J. Yates

    Thank you for the interesting and thoughtful review, Jenn’s Bookshelves. If the unreliable narrator didn’t suck you in, I think that’s completely understandable and you should absolutely say so without regret. I can see how books where the writer is playing games with you are not to everyone’s taste (in fact, my own mother-in-law, before she read my book, told me this very thing; uh-oh, I thought). But it was very thoughtful of you to take a look at other reviews and discover “that others adored the very aspects of the novel that I found lacking”. Thank you again for taking the time to read my book and write a considered review of it.

  2. Becky LeJeune
    Twitter: BeckyLeJeune

    I can’t wait to read this one! I’ll be prepared going in for the unreliable narrator and a slower reveal and all – hopefully that’ll be enough to temper my expectations a bit.

    I actually came across this title a while back in a list of recommendations for folks who liked Donna Tartt, so your comparison to THE SECRET HISTORY is quite appropriate. (This one and the rest of the list immediately went into my must have list based on the descriptions.)

    • Jenn
      Twitter: jennbookshelves

      I may go back and reread this one after I’ve had some time to get over my recent read of The Secret History. So many liked this one; could my opinion be that far off?

  3. Sarah (Sarah's Book Shelves)

    I appreciate your honest review. Even though I DID love this book (I found the mind games intriguing and fun…and I found trying to guess the narrator’s identity fun as well…even though I guessed wrong!), I always appreciate when I see an honest review from other bloggers. My review will be posted on April 23. PS – I also thought the witty (well, maybe, snarky) dialogue and social commentary helped me enjoy the book while waiting for the reveal.

  4. Jenn
    Twitter: jennbookshelves

    I really do think I read this too soon after reading THE SECRET HISTORY. I just wasn’t in the mood for something so similar, perhaps? Like I said, I’m contemplating a reread. We’ll see. So many books!