Map of Blue Book Balloon

10 August 2021

#Review - The Final Girl Support Group by Grady Hendrix

Design by Julia Lloyd

The Final Girl Support Group
Grady Hendrix
Titan Books, 13 July 2021
Available as: HB, 393pp, audio, e
Source: Advance copy provided by the publisher
ISBN(HB): 9781789096064

I'm grateful for an advance copy of The Final Girl Support Group to consider for review.

Final Girls are those left standing (if bloodied) at the end of the horror film, when the monster or the psychopath or whatever it is has chewed through the rest of the group, as the camera lingers on gore and exposed flesh.

But what happens to them afterwards, those brave survivors? In Grady Hendrix's new novel, he brings together a group of "final girls" who, fifteen or twenty years on from the worst experience of their lives, come together once a month to affirm one another, talk through their traumas and offer support. 

Or, more often, bicker and complain...

It's an ingeniously imagined world where the trope of countless movies is made real. These women, actual final girls who lived through the nightmare of seeing their friends and family slaughtered, now face survivor guilt. Why did they live? Could they have done more to protect those they loved? Or were they selfish, saving themselves and leaving others to die? It's also a world where those experiences inspired films very like the ones we can go and see, if we wish, and where a thriving online community of fans seem to blend their interest in these fictions with being "fans" of the actual survivors (...or of the killers...) collecting memorabilia, gathering in chatrooms to discuss the finer points of murder and torture. There is intense media pressure on the survivors, and many deranged figures wold step up to have a go at such celebrities, winning kudos and fame.

Maybe it's actually not such a far-fetched world, though. Hendrix's gradual unfolding of this concept fits very well with the grain of our society, of online hate and misogyny, gun fixation, greed (we meet one particularly unhinged dealer in Final Girl merch) and bizarre conspiracy theories. By the time I reached the end of the book I found myself more than convinced of the books's psychological truth. In part this is done through the central character of Lynnette, who survived the annihilation of her family before her eyes and has still to fully emerge from the trauma. 

We see how careful Lynnette is, how it takes her three hours of watchful travel, doubling back and feinting, to get from "group" back to her fortified home. Extreme caution, perhaps, but reflecting the reality of a woman seeking to protect herself from street harassment and abuse. 

Once she reaches that home, the only living thing besides herself that Lynnette will see is her pepper plant, Fine, with whom she has conversations. That's not from fear, that's because Lynnette just can't take responsibility for another human being, after what happened. Her survival, and fragile mental wellbeing in a setting where victim-blaming is only a mouse click away, depend on her isolating herself physically and mentally. But she's doing fine, just fine - until the day when all her fears and hidden memories explode again and she's forced to flee, her backup plans, which seemed wild and extravagant, suddenly vital. Then Lynnette has to face a hostile world, a world of relentless killers, hostile police (they always knew something was wrong about her story...) Even her friends, her sisters, in group turn against her as does her therapist, Dr Carol.

If in one sense this is an imitation of the form that Hendrix is holding up to scrutiny, more deeply it's an exposé of sexist tropes in popular fiction and in society more widely, Lynnette eventually rejecting the isolation she's seen as inescapable and opting instead for solidarity and trust, even against her ingrained instincts. It's a hectic, hopeless seeming chase of a book, decorated with extracts from critical works, police reports, blogs, chats, newspaper stories and other media analysing, challenging or celebrating the mythology of the Final Girl and of Lynnette in particular. Atmospheric and many-layered, these both contribute to the sense of reality of this world and also give hints about what is really happening, and how the story might turn out.

Overall, this is a pacy and entertaining book, thriller-like at times but with a real sense of heart even in a cruel and bleak setting. It has its touches of humour, and, ironically, doesn't let its villains be mere monsters - that would, after all, be letting them off too easily.

I've admired and enjoyed Grady Hendrix's earlier books, and The Final Girl Support Group is up there with the best of them. I'd firmly recommend.

For more information about The Final Girl Support Group, see the publisher's website here.

No comments:

Post a Comment