Spider by Patrick McGrath



[Click the cover below to check it out! If you don’t see a book cover below it’s probably ad-blocker settings]


[It takes awhile to figure out what the cover is referencing here, but once you realize what it’s a scene of it’s pretty interesting – also this is by far the lamest cover variant lol]


“Spider is gaunt, threadbare, unnerved by everything from his landlady to the smell of gas. He tells us his story in a storm of beautiful language that slowly reveals itself as a fiendishly layered construction of truth and illusion.


I found this book in a used book store, in the horror section. [Thank you little book store for even having a horror section, it’s insane to me that there are still major book retailers that don’t separate horror from any other fiction]

The quotes commending the book on it’s covers call it a ‘small classic of horror’ ‘disturbing, wholly absorbing’ ‘a gorgeous, painful howl of madness’ and ‘a terror of psychological horror’ and then had a sticker slapped on the front of it that said ‘soon to be a major motion picture by David Cronenberg’ – and seeing all of this I was like ‘oh shit, I need this in my face and brain right this instant.’

Now, why am I telling you all of that?

Because this book isn’t at all any of that, and it’s absolutely not what I’d ever consider to ‘horror.’

I wouldn’t say I was completely disappointed, but I kept reading on and on, wondering when the horror was going to kick in, until I realized that it wasn’t going to. Thankfully the book is a short one, only a little over 200 pages.

So what is this book? I’d classify it as a pretty standard thriller. Maybe even ‘psychological’ or ‘cerebral’ thriller if I was feeling sassy. Maybe even a murder mystery kinda? So yeah yeah – I’m sure there are plenty of people that aren’t into actual horror that would read this and consider it horror – but as someone that has read a lot of horror – I’m saying it’s definitely not.

I’m also not saying that this book is bad, either. I was rather enthralled throughout the book and was excited to pick it up and keep reading the next day after I had to go to bed – and with especially how short it is, it went by really fast.

I had to sit and think about how I was going to review this and get my thoughts in order because a lot of the book is mysterious, and has a lot of plot twists and turns. Up front, this book’s whole shtick is the fact that our main character, Dennis AKA Spider, is pretty much the most unreliable narrator of all unreliable narrators.

So spoiler territory from here on out, documented in white text. You can skip to the follow up gray text to avoid all that. You’ve been warned.

Why is Spider such an unreliable narrator? Because Spider is a severe paranoid schizophrenic that was mentally abused and horribly gaslit in his childhood, and witnessed something pretty awful that was the last straw that broke his psyche as a child. 

Spider [a nickname given to him by his mother] is a loving parent that is all Spider has in his life, because his dad is an alcoholic piece of shit from the getgo. His father hates Spider because Spider is lanky/gangly [that’s where the nickname comes from] and clumsy as a child and teenager and his father thinks he’s ‘useless’ because he’s not dripping with machismo. His father regularly neglects and verbally abuses his mother, in addition to going out drinking every night/coming home drunk. In his alcoholic rendezvous he also meets a prostitute, who he starts regularly seeing. 

Spider’s mother catches him with the prostitute, and Spider’s father in turn violently murders his mother and buries her deep under his beloved potato garden. The prostitute is moved in to replace his mother who joins in with his father in abusing Spider. 

But is that actually what happened? 

All throughout the book, things that Spider say at one point he then says is the complete opposite at another point. Character names are often confused and switched around. The past and present are constantly being switched around, often in the same paragraph – sometimes every other sentence. Is his father and his mistress gaslighting him into questioning his own sanity and what he saw his father do? Or did his parents just… change? 

Spider regularly confuses people, including thinking that people in the current day are people from his past, despite that it’s not possible for them to be so due to the age and year difference. He also can’t keep his dates or years straight. From what I can tell, when Spider was a kid, it was around the 1920’s-30’s – maybe. 

He’s also sent away to an actual asylum for awhile, in which he tells us as the reader multiple different lengths of time of how long he stayed there. Was he put there for something terrible he did? Or was he put there because his father and his mistress wanted to get rid of him because he knew what they did to his mother? 

In the time we know Spider, his mental status is constantly declining, but we don’t ever find out if it’s just because, or because he’s purposely not taking his medication. 

The entire story’s plot is blurred in this way, and you start to realize early on that nothing you’re reading from Spider’s perspective is really anything you can hold onto. 

Besides when he was a young kid, the fact that he was put in an asylum for awhile where he eventually learned happiness because he had regular care, friendships, and a routine – is the only thing that is concrete in the book. 

We as the readers also never get concrete answers, either. The whole book is just this jumbled, erratic, fever dream. The only thing we do get at the very end is that Spider decides he’s done with all of it and that he’s going to go off himself. And then the book ends with him leaving to do that. Literally. lol

Now because literally all of the story is unclear as to what is real or not because of Spider’s unreliability, I can definitely understand why this book isn’t for everyone. However, I found it pretty fascinating because as I’ve mentioned in some of my other reviews, I’m the child of a severely mentally ill parent so I experienced and outsider’s view of what it’s like to see someone going through what Spider did and I found that some of the descriptions of his illness and mental status fit rather well for describing someone with the conditions he had.

That all being said, I still finished the book with a ‘…wut?’ – which really can sum up how I feel about the entire book.

And speaking of ‘wut?’ – there are small, scattered sprinkles of strangely-placed racist imagery in the book that honestly could have been removed with literally no change to the story or plot. It has to do with when Spider is a child and being abused by his father. To dissociate and compartmentalize his pain as he’s being beaten, he fantasizes and imagines himself as a ‘little jungle black boy’ and describes how he looks, dresses, and acts as he does so. It’s… very cringey.

Now, as of writing this/posting it, I haven’t watched the movie that is based on this book. I find it kinda weird to think that Cronenberg of all people would take on the movie adaptation, though I know he doesn’t do all crazy body horror stuff. I do wonder though, because there are scenes where Spider imagines himself as an actual spider/part of his personality is personified as an actual spider that hides away when he needs to keep that part of his mind safe – I kinda wonder of the movie shows that… literally? If anyone could do a weird ass literal interpretation of someone imagining themselves as a spider, it could definitely be Cronenberg lol

I might do an edit to this review later after I’ve watched it because I am really curious.

Overall, I don’t really know if I’d recommend this book to many people. For those that I would, would have to be a very specific subset of people that I know could enjoy something as non-linear as this book was.

I give Spider 3/5 phantom mothers 


“My father didn’t care. He was a changed man now, hard as granite and cold as ice. A new sort of anger burned in him, and it burned with a cold, hard, gem-like flame: I could see it in his eyes when he took his glasses off, the hard flame burning in those hard pale-blue eyes of his. He had been a surly, humorless husband and father for years, but never before had I seen in him an ager as fierce, as cold, as this. It was as if he’d crossed a line of some sort, and lost the ability to feel even a spark of human sympathy.



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