Caroline Kepnes – “YOU”

Like most people with eyeballs and a Netflix account, I was quickly enraptured by Netflix’s pickup and subsequent release of Lifetime’s adaptation of “YOU” by Caroline Kepnes. The series starred Penn Badgley, aka “Gossip Girl” who is absolutely not to be trusted, Elizabeth Lail, Shay Mitchell and my absolute favourite and true beauty Hari Nef.

I unfortunately have to confess that I binge watched the entire series before it even occurred to me to check out the novel the series was based on. Following the completion of the series, in oh about two days, I took a drive to the local bookstore and picked up “YOU” and promptly bought the sequel “Hidden Bodies” for my iPad.

“YOU” the book is similar and yet ultimately dissimilar from the series, in many surprising ways. I found that Penn Badgley version of Joe Goldberg was a little sexier than book version Joe Goldberg. Book version Joe was far creepier, the sexual undertones of his stalking of Guinevere Beck are a lot clearer in the book, as well as his almost compulsive masturbation being highlighted. Our boy is pretty much always hauling on his hog.

I found the book’s creep factor made Joe much more akin to Maniac’s (no not the shitty Jonah Hill Netflix series where he tries and fails to convince everyone he is capable of playing a schizophrenic) Frank Zito, than a sexy boyfriendly character as he seems to be portrayed by the series.

It is worth mentioning that some serious backlash occurred over the series in regards to fans love of Joe Goldberg, with Penn Badgley even having to come out and criticize the thirsty fans for lusting after a (spoiler alert) murderer stalker.

I found the book’s portrayal of Joe to be much more believable in terms of his behaviour, and possibly because the book is giving you much more in terms of description and detail. I found him to remind me of incels, and he shares many of their talking points in the book, while falling closer to friend zoned fuckboy in the tv series. The series tends to be a little bit more light hearted, whereas I found the book to be quite serious in nature.

I found that Joe’s stalker obsession Beck was played off as somewhat less irritating in the book. I found her to be more self indulgent but I didn’t hate her character as much as I did in the television show. She is portrayed very well by Elizabeth Lail in the television show, but her portrayal is very much reduced to ditzy one dimensional, shallow, barely worthy of the fervent attention that Joe is lavishing on her, and that’s a part of what caused the backlash against the show in the first place, the whole piece around the female lead not being seen as a victim of stalking and abuse, but rather that Joe is seen as some kind of benevolent force of good that is wasting his time on a shitlord like Beck. I found television Beck to be incredibly difficult to stomach. She reminded me of a character on Girls and all of the worst aspects of that shallow portrayal of millennial womanhood. The book Beck was much more interesting, and she presented as somewhat more detailed and intricate, and similarly so much more troubled. Her therapist writes of he that he suspects she is a potential borderline personality disordered patient and that resonated with me because it’s something I had thought of both her and Peach Salinger. They had that high strung maladaptive coping that seemed to align with that thought process.

I liked television show Peach much better than the book. The book portrays her almost more garish and in some ways much more deplorable than Joe Goldberg, including her strange masturbation rituals to photographs of Beck that is described in horrifying detail. Shay Mitchell sold me more on the classy and kept together rich girl aesthetic of Peach Salinger than the Tegan and Sara wannabe of the book. I felt sorry for television Peach and mostly exhausted with book Peach.

Where the television show added in a foil character of Paco to make Joe seem a bit more relatable and human, the book doesn’t add the same dimension. He remains creepy and mostly not redeemable and I think in many ways I appreciate that much more than television series. I feel like the book became more of thriller and horror writer than sexy time drama and I appreciated that. I devoured the book in one sitting on a night shift and loved every page.

My favourite portion was the end where Joe and Beck read the Da Vinci Code together as I felt it appropriately bookended (hehe) the conversation they have at the beginning of the book where they mock and boo a book buyer who is shamefully concealing his Dan Brown book purchase shielded under another more respectable novel.

Which by the way, this is totally a thing that happens. A lot of people let it all hang out when it comes to the shitty books they read, but most people try to appear sophisticated, especially if they’re in second hand bookstores. I worked in a second hand bookshop for years, and it was artsy fartsy, indie music on the radio, girls with blue hair and big nose piercings type of place and the amount of people who would do exactly what is described in both television show and book was RIDICULOUS. My absolute favourite was a guy buying a tattered copy of War and Peace and an arguably terrible but much more understandable Drow book.

All criticisms of Joe’s overall creepiness aside, I really liked the way this book played with hip stereotypes, internet lingo (without it seeming forced and like someone’s 56 year old baby boomer dad figured out what a meme was), the draw of writing and bookshops and how fake people both seem and are. I think that’s what irritated me most about Beck, was just how fake she was. She was a terrible writer, more interested in the trappings of being a writer than simply being a writer. And I think in this way, the book was an amazing social commentary piece on how the realest person in the book was a psycho killer, and that it takes a psycho killer to be divorced from all the bullshit we use to pass the time and amuse ourselves, all of the petty drama we claim to hate but can’t seem to stop engaging in.

I quickly followed up YOU with it’s sequel novel Hidden Bodies and I must say I highly recommend both. Hidden Bodies is a bit of a differently paced and styled read, but I will have to save that review for another time.

You can check out Episode 100 f the Drunk in a Graveyard podcast where we talk quite indepth about YOU.

Follow Caroline Kepnes on twitter, and make sure to binge watch YOU, and buy her books or you’re dead to me.

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