The String Diaries


Lauren Gentile, Opinion Editor

Stephen Lloyd Jones’ horror novel “The String Diaries” originally seemed to be the literary equivalent of Fox News. It’s not for everyone.

I knew this from the start; horror novels are not usually my cup of tea. I’d prefer to curl up with a book that makes me think, rather than one that makes me stay up until the wee hours of the morning, awaiting my murder from a man who doesn’t exist. I personally didn’t like it, and wished I could go back and change things, but there were plenty of things I could appreciate about it (here the Fox News analogy stops holding up).

Published in the United States this July, “The String Diaries” is Jones’ first novel. I expect any books he publishes later in life will be even better, and although this one wasn’t my favorite, I would still be interested in reading any of Jones’ future endeavors.

“The String Diaries” certainly gets points for its prose. Jones is an excellent writer and I found his words, for the most part, lively and interesting. Starting a novel in media res has become popular in recent bestsellers, though it runs the risk of limiting the narrative to the present or requiring flashbacks. Jones handles this elegantly, weaving stories together of both the present and the past without making either too predictable.

Jones’ premise, too, is praise-worthy. He begins with a simple idea- shapeshifting- then adds layers upon layers of history, folklore, and world-building to give the story its complexity. That said, the sheer amount of “foreign” words and names can be daunting. Many times throughout the book, I had to stop and refresh myself about the characters and terms. I read this book in one sitting (probably a recipe for information overload), so it may be easier to understand if read over a few days.

The characters Jones created were, for the most part, dynamic and interesting. However, I was generally frustrated by the way Jones wrote female characters. Hannah, arguably the main character, attempts to protect her family from the threat of a man who can change his appearance at will. As the story progresses, Hannah grows weaker under the growing danger in her life. I like authors who give their heroes anxiety and sadness, but Hannah’s personality- which had first impressed me- was quickly replaced by a weaker, more emotional character. (Don’t get me wrong; women don’t have to act like men to be strong, dynamic characters. I had just hoped the Hannah I took a liking to wouldn’t falter under the burden of a curse she was raised to expect.)

There were other issues with the book that made me raise my eyebrows (and at one point, fling the book against a wall). Hannah’s family has been haunted by this man for years. After he is rejected by the woman he loves, he follows the family through generations, trying to get his hands on the daughters by taking the identity of their lovers. Besides the general ickiness of it, I was struck with question: why not just avoid ever having kids? Or, if that situation is too tough to bear, adopt a child, so she doesn’t look like her mother. The science was a bit off as well; it’s incredibly unlikely all of the daughters would look exactly like their ancestor.

Jones’ antagonist Jakab is developed well, maybe better than his other characters. While he is at first relatable, or at least pitiable, he quickly becomes a terrifying, sadistic creature. I was impressed by Jones’ skill at creating a realistic yet supernatural villain; Jakab reminded me of a serial killer who rationalized his killings as loving acts. It was eerie, unsettling at times, but I felt like Jones was trying to make a point about obsession and violence. But a plot twist that took place later in the novel made me too weirded out by the whole premise to appreciate it.

I expected “The String Diaries” to be a rather polarizing book (cue the Fox News analogy again), but I found plenty of elements in it I enjoyed, as well as plenty I didn’t. I’d recommend it to anyone looking for a horror novel that’s self-contained, but maybe not to anyone looking for a memorable or life-changing book. I think this is the first time in my life I’ve been middle of the road.