Throwing Sparks

From the book jacket:

When an opulent palace is built on the Jeddah waterfront near his poverty-stricken neighbourhood, ambitious Tariq sees a way out of his life of petty crime. He stares longingly at the huge gates, dreaming of the luxuries beyond.

But dream quickly turns into nightmare. The Palace is ruled by an enigmatic Master whose influence in the city is as wide as it is wicked. When Tariq succeeds in being appointed to serve the Master it becomes clear that he has been chosen for a single, terrible task.

Thirty years later, Tariq feels trapped. In between punishing the Master’s enemies through unspeakable acts, falling for Maram, the Master’s beautiful mistress, and resisting his brother’s plea to return home, he realises that he has become no more than a slave–and that there is only one way out.

This novel is by Saudi Arabian writer Abdo Khal. It won the International Prize in Arabic Fiction in 2010 and I’ve been waiting for it to be translated into English ever since I first heard of it.

I can’t say for certain that this is a horror novel. The way it is described by many convinced me in the beginning that it was, but now that I’ve read it, I’m not so sure. Yes, horrific things happen in it, but I’d have to go much more in-depth about the parameters of horror as a genre, first, and how those parameters apply to Arabic fiction, second, to define it with confidence. But horrific things do happen here and people suffer greatly. Sometimes they are victims of others. Often, they are victims of themselves.

If you start looking into this story online, you’ll quickly be told that it is a metaphor for the power of wealth. It is satire. It is that, yes. Tariq is poor, and from a poor neighborhood, and when a friend of his gets him a job at the Palace, he’s happy to go. But the job he’s given is as a Punisher. It’s his job to torture and sodomize (often on video) the enemies of the Master. The Master snaps his fingers and Tariq jumps. He jumps for his entire life. But now, as the autumn of his life approaches, he begins to reflect on the decisions he’s made and the impact they’ve had on those he both does and does not love.

Before you start feeling sympathetic for him, though, I’ll tell you that Tariq is not a good man. This is one of the aspects of the novel I like the most, actually. He’s not one of your cliché “devil-turned-angel” types. He’s a bad man who does bad things. As a youth, he spent time in an alley of his neighborhood known to harbor pedophiles. A young woman he cares about begs him at one point, “Spare me, because I love you.” He does not.

Throwing Sparks offers a lot to think about. The narrator tells us his sins with a clear eye, and lets us witness the prices he pays and his ultimate bid for freedom.

If you’d like to read more about the novel and don’t care about spoilers, here are a couple places to go:

Review of Throwing Sparks in Banipal: A Magazine of Modern Arab Literature

Abdo Khal’s Throwing Sparks Stirs a Paradise of Horrors in Jeddah–from The National, UAE Edition

If you’d like to learn more about Arab fiction in general, visit the site of the International Prize in Arabic Fiction. It’s a great site and there are terrific resources there.







No One Gets Out Alive

From the book jacket:

When Stephanie moves to a deprived neighborhood of North Birmingham, she’s just happy to find an affordable room for rent that’s large enough not to deserve her previous room’s nickname, “the cell.” The eccentric–albeit slightly overly friendly–landlord seems nice and welcoming enough, the ceilings are high, and all of the other tenants are also girls. Things aren’t great, but they’re stable. Or at least that’s what Stephanie tells herself when she impulsively hands over enough money to cover the first month’s rent and decides to give it a go.

     But soon after, she becomes uneasy about her rash decision. She hears things in the night. Feels them. Things…or people…who aren’t there in the light. Who couldn’t be there, because after all, her door is locked every night, and the key is still in place in the morning. Concern soon turns to terror when the voices she hears and presence she feels each night become hostile. It’s clear that something very bad has happened in this house. And something even worse is happening now. Stephanie has to find a way out, before whatever’s going on in the house finds her first.

     No One Gets Out Alive will chill you straight through to the core–a cold, merciless, fear-inducing nightmare to the last page. A word of caution, don’t read this one in the dark.

My Read:

No One Gets Out Alive is Adam Nevill’s sixth novel, but only my first to read of his, and I loved it. I finished all 628 pages in one week and looked forward to it every single evening. Now that I’m finished, I’m floundering a bit and wishing I’d ordered some of his other books earlier so there wouldn’t have been a reading gap.

What makes it so good, Melissa?

I’m glad you asked.


It’s scary. It’s really and truly scary, and the thrills it gives the reader don’t rely on gore. Now, don’t get me wrong, I can handle gore. But I don’t find it very scary. Paragraphs about blood and rolling heads and the like just leave me wondering if it really does do that and how does the writer know that anyway? Is the author a good researcher? And why am I now pulled out of the story and wondering about the writer’s research skills?

Part of what is horrific in this story is only tangentially related to ghosts and haunting issues. Real live humans can make a hell for you if you’re unlucky. Or gentle. Or too trusting. Or poor. I could go on. There are characters here who do just this, and provide just as much fright as anything that might come drifting out from under your bed.


It’s descriptive and the descriptions are excellent. At no time did I come across a poorly used word or an awkward metaphor that jarred my involvement in the story.


The characters felt real. The protagonist, Stephanie, is both weak and strong, smart and gullible. Because Nevill takes his time in laying the groundwork for who she is and what will happen to her, you eventually realize that there was no need for her to do anything differently at any early point. You won’t find yourself thinking something like, “Oh, don’t run in high heels. You’ll fall and then…oh there you go.” Stephanie won’t be running in high heels.

I’ve ordered two of his other novels: Lost Girl (dystopian/apocalyptic) and The Ritual (demons! or the devil! Dunno, haven’t read it yet!). The Ritual is a movie now, which will be released this fall.

Couple of links:

Adam Neville’s website

Trailer for The Ritual