Seeing Double is the story of Ada, her husband Daniel, and their recruit in games of lust and violence, Neven. They are a dangerous trio, trawling city nightlife for playthings with the pride and elite taste of predators. Sharing secrets and scars, they form obsessive and manipulative bonds. The shifting loyalties between them is unsettling, Runge keeps turning the tables maintaining tight tension throughout. The reader is never certain who has the upper hand or if any of them are in control at all.
Set in an Asian metropolis, Ada, Daniel and Neven are expats, at once fetishized and ostracized by the culture they live in. The voyeuristic interplay between foreigner and local emphasises their sense of isolation and displacement and adds another dimension to their sexual violence. Being foreigners they exist outside moral codes, social norms and cultural tradition and they take advantage of this space of anonymity and detachment to act out their dark desires. It is telling that their victims are always other foreigners, carefully selected and easily disposed of without attracting attention from locals.
The city itself is a monstrosity seething in the background, teeming with sex, sweat, heat, stench, vomit, alcohol, pollution, stress. The contrast between the lingering remains of an ancient culture and the expansion of the ultra modern is an engaging undercurrent of the story.
The characters are not likeable or endearing. I was grateful to leave them behind at the end of the book and didn’t empathise with them at all but this didn’t feel like a drawback to me. It is apparent that Runge cares greatly for her monstrous creations and therefore communicates them with insight and sensitivity. I enjoyed the way their layers of dysfunction were slowly peeled back to reveal rotten cores, yet never with a cast of judgement. The prose examining the inner lives of the characters is gruelling at times, the ability to elicit disturbing psychological states is one of Runge’s talents.
The introduction of character doubles was an intriguing way to explore psychological ground and to pose new questions – what happens when we pry open the doors of trauma, hidden in the darkest cavities of our minds, doors that can never be sealed gain? How do we meet those fragmented aspects of our consciousness and how do we assimilate them?
The novel is loaded with eroticism but never slips into titillation. The gore and body horror is underplayed, it is certainly explicit but never sensationalist. This deft control of subject matter is one of the highlights of the writing and kept me intrigued and involved.
Seeing Double demands commitment from the reader. Being familiar with Runge’s work I knew she could pull it off and was willing to go along for the ride. The story is told through shifting points of view which can feel disorientating until the picture starts to come together, this technique works cleverly to lure the reader into an increasingly threatening maze and to a disturbing finale.
I really enjoyed Seeing Double. It is a complex and ambitious novel of raw, challenging and carefully crafted horror. It will introduce you to things you can’t unsee and can’t unfeel. It will leave a mark.
Karen Runge www.karenrunge.wordpress.com