It's his search for adventure and excitement that makes American student Chad step out of his comfort zone and choose to spend a year at Pitt College Oxford, that makes him approach and strike up a friendship with a British student, Jolyon, rather than hanging round with his fellow-Americans, and that made the two of them dream up the idea for The Game. Like Truth or Dare, it isn't the game that's so important but its consequences - at each round, the losers have to perform a series of forfeits, ranging from the mildly foolish to the totally humiliating, in order to continue in the Game. At the Freshers Fair, they find the mysterious Games Soc, willing and able to offer a substantial cash prize for the winner, so with four more participants they're ready to play. At first it's all good fun, the early consequences are silly simple things, but as the Game progresses they become more personally humiliating. Just how far can they push each other before something tragic occurs?
Now, 14 years later, it's time for the last round of The Game to be played...
This psychological thriller unfolds from two angles; that of a near-recluse, at first un-named, living in New York in the present day, told in first person, and a third person narrative of the events that occurred at Oxford, 14 years ago. The two twist round each other, feeding each story-line out slowly and teasingly, upping the suspense. The Game starts out as a bit of fun but, like a student prank gone wrong, things soon turn sour; personal relationships start to interfere with the unbiased running of the Game, with players joining forces and personal grudges work themselves out through the 'consequences'. The early pages soon had me hooked, and I was reading and page-turning as quickly as I could, but towards the end I found myself caring less about what happened. The strength of the novel lies in the excellent portrayal of the interaction between the six student game-players; their friendships, loves and jealousies; their changing alliances and powerplays. I wasn't so fascinated by Game Soc who lurk rather menacingly in the background, supervising and approving the playing of the Game and the performing of the forfeits - and it may actually have been their greater involvement that led to my downturn in interest.
Taken as a whole though Black Chalk is an excellent debut thriller, and Yates an author I look forward to reading more from.
Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher - Harville SeckerGenre - adult fiction, psychological thriller
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