Primal by Robin Baker

Primal

by Robin Baker

Published by Virgin Books, 2009.

A group of students are invited by their enigmatic and charismatic professor Raul to a remote tropical island. At first it appears like paradise but gradually things take a darker turn. When the leader disappears along with all their supplies and crucially their clothes, the students are left confused, vulnerable and…well a bit cold. Hoping for an imminent rescue however they make the most of a bad job but as time passes the fears anxieties and sexual frustrations within the group reach fever pitch.

The novel has two quite distinct parts. The first section is a fictionalised version of the students tales up to the time they realise things are going wrong. It’s told from the perspective of a key member of the group but turned into a narrative by the author who has (supposedly) been commissioned to report the tale of the survivors.

When the author begins to get too close to the darker side of the tale his sources dry up. The second part of the book is essentially him going through scraps of journals and drawings to try to piece together the tragedy that unfolded until eventually he has enough material to confront the survivors with.

Coming across as something like a cross between Big Brother, Lost and Lord of The Flies this is one of the strangest books I have read in a while. Containing more sex that a bumper collection of Playboy yet strangely un-erotic, this coupled with the cod-documentary style of the narrative makes the book interesting if not particularly entertaining.

The author is trying to make a point about animal instincts throughout and largely succeeds although whether you believe he is right is a separate question. The point being that left isolated long enough, people would revert to animal behavior where sex becomes an uninhibited means to an end rather than something loving or even erotic. Unfortunately in order to prove that point the author has to contrive some very strange plot points most of which left this reader smirking with incredulity rather than any sense of anticipation.

Clearly also the author has to shy away from some of the more animalistic behavior, it’s all there but much of it told from behind the screens of a third party perspective. It’s a book that is designed to shock and on that level it succeeds. It also gives an interesting perspective on a psychological conundrum but for me it lacked narrative cohesion and hence tension. The uncomfortable split between the first and second sections didn’t work for me as the pace inevitably ground to a halt just as things had begun to get interesting.

It’s not for the shy and retiring types either, the sex and violence (and often both) are portrayed in graphic detail and make for uncomfortable reading. So not without merit and as a literary take on a psychological experiment it’s certainly clever but just not my kind of thing, only really recommended to those who enjoy philosophical and psychological questions, or who collect names for genitalia!

Rating 2.5 out of 5

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Filed under dark, fiction, horror, Review

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