Rating: 4/5 stars
Notorious “revenge-porn” blogger Jacob Lynch, better known by his pseudonym Brodie Lomax, is in the midst of throwing the internet world on its head with the renewal of his reality TV show, seven-figure book deal, and of course his revenge-porn blog, when he suddenly vanishes out of range of any wi-fi hotspot. An escape to an isolated hunting lodge in the middle of Alaska seems to be the perfect cure for his writer’s block – until the mysterious Alicia shows up. Of course, things don’t go exactly as planned, and when he wakes up chained to a bed, revenge- and grief-stricken Alicia seems more than happy to give him – quite literally – a dose of his own sick medicine.
Alex van Tonder’s debut novel is exciting, unexpected and undeniably crazy – much like her psychotic bride-to-be-on-the-loose, Alicia. I experienced so many conflicting thoughts and emotions that by the time I finally closed the book I had to sit back for a little while and take about five or six deep, deep breaths. Jacob is simultaneously infuriating – I wanted to kill him for about 95% of the novel, or at least give him a serious lecture on basic human decency and how not to destroy other people’s lives – and frustratingly likeable. I was startled that at some points, I actually didn’t want Alicia to mutilate him, and hoped he’d be able to find his way back home somehow. I think that exposes some really good writing – the way in which van Tonder was able to completely expose a “Professional Douchebag” (to use her own words) of a man, and yet still invoke sympathy for him in her readers is quite phenomenal.
I had a little bit of a problem with the way in which men and women were portrayed, but I suppose that can be put down to the novel being from Jacob's perspective. He is the textbook definition of a misogynist. Still, all the women were portrayed as fame-hungry, Instagram-obsessed, sex-crazed, desperate housewives that only needed a little money to be convinced that their leaked sex-tape was not so bad after all. And the men were just as bad: drug-addicted, noncommittal, self-absorbed morons with nothing better to do than follow the instructions of the "internet-cool kids".
But then, in total, terrifying contrast, Alicia is totally bonkers. She is one-hundred-percent, lock-away-in-an-asylum-forever crazy, and for a little while I sat there half-smiling at the book thinking, “Nah, come on… she would never really do tha– OH. WAIT. NOPE, SHE DID. OKAY.” I was so wrapped in shock at her inhumanity that when the plot twist finally crashed the party, I pretty much had an aneurism.
Then, because it’s a mysterious new genre of social-media-crime-thriller-fiction, about fifteen more rapid, expertly timed and executed plot twits threw the whole story on its head again, leading up to an ending I can only explain as ‘throw-the-book-at-the-wall’-worthy. I haven’t stopped thinking about it since – but that’s the way you know it was a damn good book, right?
This One Time is witty, dark and somewhat brilliant. Its bold originality and sharp, fast-paced writing makes for an incredible novel, with enough twists and turns to make its readers feel almost as disoriented as Jacob himself. Highly recommended.