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I first read Poppy Z Brite's Exquisite Corpse in my late teens and now, some 10+ years later, it is still a book I regularly pick up and enjoy. The novel spins the twisted tale of Andrew Compton, a very British (and gay) serial killer who manages - through quasi-magical trickery - to escape his prison cell and get to New Orleans in the southern state of Louisiana, USA. There he meets a new set, like-minded lovers and victims. Each time I read this, I find myself siding with a different character. Whether its Compton himself, Tran the Vietnamese runaway or even Jay Byrne (a character modelled on infamous real-life serial killer, Jeffrey Dahmer) each of the characters are full and realistic - sometimes too realistic!
Brite hails the area where much of the novel is set and her knowledge of the area and culture is abundantly apparent. At times, you can almost smell and taste the surroundings - which is pretty grim when you're reading about the blood, guts and other bodily fluids which spill across the pages of this novel. The book is set within the same Universe as the author's other works (notably Drawing Bloody and Lost Souls) and fans of the author can enjoy cameo appearances by protagonists from these other works.
Please note that is this book is not for the faint-hearted. It contains sexual scenes which are as depraved as one can imagine, but the sympathetic characters prevent any of it from ever coming across as sordid.
Somebody I knew from way back was a big fan of Poppy Z Brites book and from hearing her raving on about them I went and bought myself a copy. Let's just say I don't intend on buying another one. From the front cover, mine has a picture of a man dripping in blood, blindfolded and strapped to a chair, I don't know why I was slightly...surprised at what I was reading. It's clearly obvious that this is not a story on light and happy times.
Poppy Z Brite is an author who seems to relish in the art of horror and thriller novels. Her trademarks usually involve gay men, very graphic sexual descriptions and brutal murders. Lost Souls is another of her well known books only in addition she's involved vampires as well. Exquisite Corpse is the third horror novel by her and was published in Britain in 1996.
First things first. This is a book about serial killers. If you don't want to read about grizzly killings from the murderers point of view then I'd really advise you to not even glance at the Poppy Z Brite section in your book shops.
There are a few things to get your head around. The art of somebody coming back to life after death and still being able to have a physical form being the main point. There is also no morals. You are only concentrating on the killers love of blood.
There are basically two plots running through this, as you'd expect eventually they tie together towards the end. So although this isn't the nicest of reads it keeps you ploughing through just so you can see how these two murderers get connected. Andrew Compton has recently escaped from prison and is off to America. Searching through the towns seedy clubs, praying on any beautiful men that he comes into contact with.
After we've gotten past from how Compton escapes we are introduced to Jay. Another man who has a lust for killing. After a few visual descriptions it's clear that there is nothing which suggests that we should like these two men and as the story goes on it gets easier and easier to dislike their characteristics.
Meanwhile a young couple, Tran and Luke, appear to be going through a rough patch in their relationship. It's obvious that Tran loves Luke although I can't see why he would. Luke comes across as a dangerous person. Somebody you shouldn't mess with who has a slightly self destructive personality. On several occassions you desperately want Tran to leave him as soon as possible. Maybe it's the danger which attracts Tran as when Jay appears on the scene he becomes interested in him.
When Compton arrives as well you know that something bad is going to happen. Especially when he teams up with Jay and they have their eyes set on Tran and his growing attraction towards the younger of the serial killers, soon becoming their main target.
It is a simple plot and easy to follow. So if you do happen to put it to one side when you begin to read it again you're not going to be a bit lost. It's interesting how you get to really know how the killers are going to react. Whilst Luke would do anything to stop Tran from leaving him, you see how passionate and slightly sickening it is to read how Jay loves to kill his victims.
After a while you start to think that there is some kind of logic behind what they are doing.
If you don't enjoy reading in graphic detail about how somebody gets tortured or dies this is not something you should read. The descriptions which Brite uses almost start to make you believe that she has some kind of knowledge in that kind of behaviour. I'm not really into this style of book but I really did not want to just give up with it, yes it is pretty gruesome but it isn't boring or uninteresting. Just not my kind of book.
Unlike some horror/thriller novels this one has not one mention about it being wrong to kill somebody. On plenty of occassions I found myself shuddering as to what I was reading so really don't bother if you don't like to look at blood, guts and more.
This cost me £7.99 from WHSmiths but you can still get it for £5.50 from Amazon. It should also be in the crime section at Waterstones for around about the same price as Smiths.
"Exquisite corpse" is certainly not for the faint hearted.
Poppy Z Brite is an interesting author to say the least.
She was born Melissa Ann Brite (Poppy certainly sounds more interesting), in 1967, In New Orleans, a place sure to inspire horror fiction (superstar horror writer Anne Rice also hails from New Orleans).
Brite has written extensively on her gender dysphoria/gender identity issues. She identifies as a male, yet doesnt appear masculine, or ask to be addressed as a male.
Brite has described herself as a "non-operative transsexual", and this is often reflected in her work, with some characters appearing sexless, or overly sexed, regardless of gender, or orientation.
Brites first attempts to have "Exquisite corpse" published were unsuccessful.
Uk Publisher Penguin wrote to Brite,
"I was very sorry not to feel able to offer to publish it, but I did have very considerable reservations about the subject; which is not to say that fiction shouldn't handle shocking and dangerous subjects, rather that I felt very uncomfortable with the mixture of a [journalistic] approach to the characters and a tendency to see them as admirable, almost vampire-like characters".
The book was finally published in 1996 by Simon & Schuster in the US, and Orion in the UK.
Andrew Compton is a serial killer.
He sneaks his way out of prison, and goes back to what he does best. Killing people.
He travels to the US where he happens across a like minded person. Another naughty killer, Jay.
Apart from killing, Jay likes eating.
Jay and Andrew make a great team, sharing their interest in murder, cannibalism, and necrophilia.
So yes. The subjects in this book are truly gruesome. Some scenes are quite harrowing. The detail is often graphic, and mostly shocking.
What makes this novel different to a run of the mill shock horror thriller, is the beautifully descriptive writing.
Only Poppy Z Brite could turn murder cannibalism and necrophilia into something beautiful.
This book contains many harrowing subjects. Along with the themes already mentioned, "Exquisite corpse" frankly discusses gay sex, and AIDS.
The novel gives an unusual insight into the mind of a killer.Andrew is an intelligent, and strangely compelling anti hero, and I found myself, bizarrely, rooting for him throughout the book. Not that I condone his actions. His actions are icky. I just found him rather likable. In a psychotic way.
More horrifying than the overly graphic descriptions of depravity, is the deadly loom of AIDS that hangs over several characters heads. Discussed in a frank and refreshing manner, Brite explores different attitudes toward the disease.
As usual with Brites novels, there is sex a plenty. Lots of lovely describtive gay sex, for those so inclined. I didnt, however find these sex scenes a turn on.
Mainly because they mostly ended with a gruesome murder....which isnt really my cup of tea.Im a little more sexually conventional than that.
So, like I said. Not for the faint hearted, or the squeamish. I felt a little dirty inside for enjoying such an extreme novel, but Poppy Z Brite has a spectacular gift for turning the disgusting, depraved and diabolical, into something rather poetic.
To learn more about exquisite corpse, and Poppy Z Brite, visit her website at the below address.
Its not often I am really grossed out or scared by a book. The occasional flinch here and there is always a good sign, more due to my crazy imagination than the subtle prodding by the words of any given writer.
Brite on the other hand decided to forego the gentle prods to my imagination. Instead she tied me to the bed (which after reaching the gory conclusion is a strangely apt metaphor) and gouged at my innards with a rusty screwdriver while sipping on a wine so expensive I cant even pronounce its name in her best Sunday dress.
I had heard a few things that interested me enough to pick this book up. Mainly due to the fact that Brite regularly likes to throw some horned up gays into her story lines - something, I must admit I am partial to. Adding to this was the reputation for blood and guts and madness she has built firmly upon. I suppose I saw it as some sort of challenge. HA! YOU WILL NOT PHASE ME!!!
That idea lasted...oh...a page and a half?
We start off being told a tale by Andrew Compton, gay serial killer and necrophiliac. Straight away we are indulged (in detail) about his exploits, killing young men and ravaging them in every single way possible. It is NOT for the faint hearted. Hell, I hardly have a heart and this one had my eyes pinned to the page with utter disbelief.
Its certainly interesting being told the story from the killers perspective. Especially considering the killer turns out to be a rather intelligent, otherwise boring guy. He could be your next door neighbour. The guy who served you at the checkout earlier today. Over a while (if you look past the murders and revelling in keeping a corpse in his bed so he doesn't feel alone) he actually becomes quite a likeable, crafty person.
The story its self is quite fast moving. A lot of it is left up to sheer chance and a lot of half assed attempts to make things happen in the way the writer wants. Oddly it doesn't make this depraved delicatessen of murderous frolics any less appealing. If anything I'd like to think it makes it that little bit more stomach-able. The worst parts are, quite sadly, incredibly believable. It is easy to think there are such violent, incredibly disturbed people out there. The chance of it all somehow reminds us its all a story.
Brite introduces a few different characters throughout, who are a stark look at the more hardcore side of the gay community, keeping everything fresh and alive (other than a few boys killed along the way) and looking into some of the more serious issues of being a homosexual male in the midst of an AIDS crisis.
Being gay myself this book really got me at some parts. The descriptions of some of the characters living with AIDS, the fear of testing positive for HIV and the stigma that surrounds the infected were, at times, more fearful than Compton's lust for blood. Brite presents some awe inspiring attitudes to living with the virus and effortlessly communicates just how ignorant the world was at times towards it.
More on the murderous side of things, we are introduced to Jay. Beautiful, rich, deadly. The story takes an even darker turn when Compton and Jay meet. Not only are they both murderers, they fall for each other. I even found myself hoping it would work out for them!!
This book is not only full of gore and guts, there's a healthy splattering of sex throughout. Brite seduces the reader into bed with a plethora of amazingly beautiful young men, teasing you to the point where you may just want to put the book down and make a grab for the tissues. Or whatever women grab for if you are one. Just as you think the woman should apply for a post at playboy she reminds you that you are not reading a pornographic story for your own enjoyment. You are witnessing a helpless victim take his last breath before his very insides are torn from him (you may not want to think of sex for a day or two after reading this book).
As amazingly soaked in blood and sperm as this novel is, it kept me hooked to its last dying breath. I needed to know what happened to the people in this peep show. HIV, Cannibalism, sex, death, blood, guts, guts guts and guts. Did I mention guts? This is a horrifying look into the life of serial killers and their victims and it leaves you worried that you enjoyed it even a little. It is a dirty secret. Now go enjoy.
*review also on ciao*
A terrifying novel of love and slaughter set in London and New Orleans. To serial killer Andrew Compton, murder is an art, the most intimate art. After feigning his own death to escape from a life sentence in prison, he makes his way to America with the intention of bringing his art to new heights. Tortured by his own perverse desires, he inadvertently joins forced with Jay, a dissolute playboy. They set their sights on a young Vietnamese-American runaway, whom they deem to be the perfect victim. Moving from the grimy streets of London's Piccadilly Circus to the decadences of New Orleans' French Quarter, Poppy Z. Brite dissects the landscape of torture and invites us into the mind of a serial killer in this riveting, unforgettable masterpiece of horror.