"A room without books is like a body without a soul." - Marcus Tullius Cicero

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Off Season by Jack Ketchum


When a group of friends stay in a lonely cabin on the coast of Maine, they are unaware of the horrors that will ensue when they unwittingly catch the attention of a local family of cannibals who live in a nearby cave. Silently stalked by the animalistic tribe, the group of six rapidly diminishes...the cannibals are hungry, and they won’t stop until they have fully sated their appetite for human flesh!

The premise of Off Season is familiar, and the story is reminiscent of numerous cannibal stories such as The Hills Have Eyes. However the unoriginality of the plot can almost be forgiven by the brilliant writing; Ketchum succeeds at making the situation feel real and scary, albeit a little bit B movie at the same time. Ketchum’s descriptions of the cannibals are fantastic; he paints them almost as a pack of vicious, powerful animals, and some of the things they do are incomprehensible and shocking. In particular the ‘recipes’ described - such as sausages made from human-meat - were inventive and gruesome.

Despite there being an abundance of visceral horror in this novel, I couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed by the level of gore - after the hype surrounding Ketchum’s debut novel I was expecting something a little more extreme than what I read. For the majority of people though, Off Season will push their limits; it is definitely not for the squeamish. The original release of Off Season in 1980 had much of the gory parts cut out and it even had a completely different ending - something which Ketchum discusses in his ‘Afterword’ to the novel - yet it remained highly controversial in spite of this. It was interesting to read about how much the novel was changed before its initial publication, as Ketchum outlines some of the specific sections that were cut or edited. However this unexpurgated edition, first published in 1999, is much closer to Ketchum’s original manuscript, and has all the gross stuff added back in.

The characters are quite one dimensional and I kept forgetting who was who at the beginning, but this doesn’t really matter considering so many of them die, and this isn’t a character-driven plot. An aspect of this novel I really like is that as a reader it is impossible to predict who will survive - characters who you think will live probably won’t, and vice versa. Off Season starts with a bang and doesn’t let up until the final page, making for an engrossing read.

To conclude, Off Season is a good read if you’re after something shocking, gory and disgusting, but not much more than that. Once the mayhem begins, a fast pace is maintained that keeps the reader interested throughout, and is very well written as to render this almost clich├ęd subject matter feel new again.

Rating: 7/10

My other Jack Ketchum reviews:
The Girl Next Door

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