*I received a free ARC of this book via Rachel’s Random Resources blog tour. The decision to review and my opinions are my own.*
Blurb: It is 1992, and in a Bosnian town a small family cowers in their basement. The Serbian militia is coming – an assorted rabble of malcontents given authority by a uniform and inflamed by the idea that they’re owed something, big-time, and the Bosnians are going to pay. When they get to the town they will ransack the houses, round up the men and rape the women. Who’s to stop them? Who’s to accuse them? Who will be left, to tell the tale?
Meanwhile, in a nondescript northern UK town a group of contestants make their way to the TV studios to take part in a radical new Game Show. There’s money to be won, and fun to be had. They’ll be able to throw off their inhibitions and do what they want because they’ll all be in disguise and no-one will ever know.
In a disturbing denouement, war and game meld into each other as action and consequence are divided, the words ‘blame’ and ‘fault’ have no meaning and impunity reigns .
Game Show asks whether the situation which fostered the Bosnian war, the genocide in Rwanda, the rise of so-called Islamic State in Syria and the ethnic cleansing in Myanmar could ever happen in the West. The answer will shock you.
I cannot stop thinking about this book! I want to classify it as ‘Dystopian Sci-fi’, but unfortunately it is all too real, set in recent history and terrifyingly believable.
The author has clearly researched the psychology of GroupThink and understands how an individual personality can be subsumed into a mob mentality, and her portrayal of the various ways this can happen, both naturally and via deliberate manipulation, is truly chilling.
The plot follows several different characters as they prepare in various ways for the latest episode of ‘Game Show’; a cross between Big Brother and programmes like Total Wipeout / Takeshi’s Castle. The characters are not all particularly likable, but they are all true to life, with real flaws, motivations and desires. I was particularly fascinated to find that characters I felt antipathy towards at the start grew on me, and some actually became my personal favourites by the end.
For the plot to work, there were quite a few disbelief-suspending moments (at one point I actually found myself humming ‘It’s a Small World After All’!), but in the context of the craziness that is the Game Show set up, that didn’t really matter. What mattered more was the characters reactions and behaviours in the staged environment that the author set up for their ‘game’; exactly like a Big Brother episode, we were reading for the human psychological element more than the realism (What?! That’s why we watch it, right? The psychology!).
The juxtaposition of actual human suffering with enforced suffering for ‘entertainment’ and/or enlightenment was sobering, and Cresswell did an excellent job of highlighting just how easy it is for normal, everyday people to perform evil acts under the right conditions. This main theme of authority vs responsibility permeated the entire novel.
Another theme, consciously highlighted by the author for reasons explained in the afterword and appendix, is rape. Rape as an act of war, an act of power, an act of subjugation. There are multiple instances in the plot of rape and attempted rape, each one with unique circumstances, but the same underlying motivation: power. These scenes are likely to be triggering for some: they seriously upset me for one. But they are not frivolous or titillating; the author is using them to highlight a very serious issue, and they form an important part of the overall picture of the corrupting influence of authority without responsibility.
Cleverly, the reader gets to experience the disorientation and anxiety first-hand, as the author deliberately obscures the details of the show from us, as well as the contestants, so we are unsure what will happen next, and how much of it is planned. This really brings home how important trust and ‘the known’ are in creating the illusion of security and confidence in our lives. It shook me to lift my head from the page and realise that everything could change with just one soldier, one helicopter, one bomb on my quiet suburban street. It wouldn’t take much for my position to be no better than the Bosnian Serbs depicted, and the whole thing is out of my control. I wonder how I would behave? Would I push an old lady over for a blanket and some potatoes? What would be stronger, my base urges or my better nature?
I highly recommend Game Show. It is exciting, horrifying, and gave me A LOT to think about. Those just looking for a vicarious entertainment fix should also read it, not only because it delivers, but because it might just make you consider the direction that craving is taking society in.
The realities of Game Show were turning out to be so different, so disturbingly different, from her expectation. She thought she had understood it, she thought she had grasped its nature. But in only twenty-four hours it had become glaringly obvious she had seen only its innocuous glitzy facade. The truth of it – its heart – was dark.
– Allie Cresswell, Game Show
Dr Zimbardo says: ‘Good people can be induced, seduced and initiated into behaving in evil ways. They can also be led to act in irrational, stupid, self-destructive, anti-social and mindless ways when they are immersed in ‘total situation”
– Allie Cresswell, ‘Appendix 3’ of Game Show
Game Show is available on Amazon right now.