The Night Has Seen Your Mind
Robert Welbourn reviews The Night Has Seen Your Mind, an intriguing novel by Simon Kearns which blends horror with speculative fiction.
I can sum up this entire book quite comfortably in one sentence: The Night Has Seen Your Mind is perhaps the most frustrating book I’ve ever read. Despite this, I enjoyed it a great deal.
The plot revolves around five characters who have been selected to spend a month in Alaska at the home of a reclusive tech billionaire; the five all work in varying fields, and the only rule of their stay is that they must wear caps which measure their brain activity whilst they work. And they all get paid the incredibly handsome sum of $5m for the month.
It isn’t made fully clear up-front why their brain activity is to be measured, but their host, Mattias Goff, only asks they wear the caps for two hours per day. This plot was the first thing to frustrate me; The Night Has Seen Your Mind is slow and methodical, laying things out for us piece by piece until we can see the full puzzle. Unfortunately, it takes too long to do so. I read it on Kindle, so I was able to keep track of my progress; I was more than 50% of the way through the book before Goff’s plan even started to be explained.
I didn’t dislike the first half. However, it felt like there was far too much build-up before we finally learnt what was happening. The exposition seemed endless; although Kearns has a way with words, and writes excellent prose, frankly there was too much of it. Had the plot been explained earlier – or even halfway through, but halfway through a much smaller book – I might have enjoyed it more. As it is, I didn’t get to appreciate the writing as much as I would have liked. I found myself increasingly frustrated by not knowing what was happening, and reading increasingly faster to get to the point.
I will say this though: once things finally were revealed, I didn’t expect to learn what I did. This book is a unique tale, and I’ve never read anything similar. It’s horror, yes, but also speculative fiction. Think of it as The Thing (US, John Carpenter, 1982) meets 2001: A Space Odyssey (UK/US, Stanley Kubrick, 1968). An intriguing crossover, I’m sure you’ll agree!
My other great frustration was with the narrative style. Five people are offered the chance to go to Alaska, and leave incredibly rich: an author, an actor, a musician, a photographer, and a coder. As the book opens, we experience each character’s point of view. We see their hopes, their expectations, their doubts, and their worries. Anyone who regularly reads my reviews will know how much I enjoy non-standard narrative forms, and this book was no exception. However, as the book progressed, it left quite a lot to be desired.
Whilst the characters are travelling to Alaska, getting settled in the house, meeting each other, and trying to figure out what’s going on, we see events from inside their heads. It’s fascinating to listen to their innermost thoughts and feelings: each character is as in the dark as we are, and – in terms of literary devices – this is absolutely the correct way to approach a book such as this; we learn as the characters learn, and react in the way they react.
However, we slowly leave behind the narrative viewpoint of some of the characters, and it’s a great shame. As events escalate, and things begin to get out of control, the group splinters into the ‘good’ guys and the ‘bad’ guys. It’s a tried and tested formula, but as the characters separate, we lose the internal narratives for the ‘bad’ guys. This would make sense if these characters were dying, incapacitated, or robbed of their thoughts in some way, but this isn’t the case: all five characters stay in the story, and stay lucid (at least to a point). We only see the actions of the ‘bad’ guys through the eyes of the ‘good’; it’s incredibly frustrating just watching them. It would be absolutely fascinating to stay with the innermost thoughts of the characters that become seduced by the wilderness, by the reclusive billionaire and his scheme. However, we’re not granted this luxury: we stay in the heads of the ‘good’ guys with their limited point of view, and so it becomes increasingly frustrating as we wait and wait and wait for all to be revealed.
These two frustrations aside, I very much enjoyed the book. Kearns writes prose like a poet:
‘Out of the north they raced, into a midday sunrise, where bands of red and orange were winning out against the grey, and over ragged mountaintops wan beams of sunlight fanned like flags of hope.’
Kearns is obviously an incredibly talented writer. The atmosphere of The Night Has Seen Your Mind is clear from the very first page; the Alaskan wilderness is a character in this novel as much as any other, and there’s a real darkness to it. The book’s setting is incredibly sinister, and the atmosphere is dark and tense; we’re on edge the whole time. It reminds me again of The Thing: the landscape is beautiful, barren, and dangerous. The snow makes you want to play in it, the mountains and rivers make you want to explore; however, if you do, you die. How’s that for a choice?
The Night Has Seen Your Mind isn’t without its flaws, but it’s a well-written novel with a very unique storyline, and it’s worth reading the entire thing (fighting through the exposition), to finally find out what’s going on. The novel is left in a position where a sequel could quite easily happen. I shall be waiting with baited breath to see if it does.
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