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Review: Exquisite Corpse by Poppy Z. Brite

Friday, August 29, 2014

Exquisite Corpse
Poppy Z. Brite

Genre: LGBQTHorror
Paperback: 240 Pages
Publication: 1996
by Scribner Paperback Fiction


To serial slayer Andrew Compton, murder is an art, the most intimate art. After feigning his own death to escape from prison, Compton makes his way to the United States with the sole ambition of bringing his "art" to new heights. Tortured by his own perverse desires, and drawn to possess and destroy young boys, Compton inadvertently joins forces with Jay Byrne, a dissolute playboy who has pushed his "art" to limits even Compton hadn't previously imagined. Together, Compton and Byrne set their sights on an exquisite young Vietnamese-American runaway, Tran, whom they deem to be the perfect victim.

Swiftly moving from the grimy streets of London's Piccadilly Circus to the decadence of the New Orleans French Quarter, and punctuated by rants from radio talk show host Lush Rimbaud, a.k.a. Luke Ransom, Tran's ex-lover, who is dying of AIDS and who intends to wreak ultimate havoc before leaving this world. Exquisite Corpse unfolds into a labyrinth of murder and love. Ultimately all four characters converge on a singular bloody night after which their lives will be irrevocably changed — or terminated.


We can probably agree that I’m sort of the horror girl on here, since I tend to review darker and spookier books. That being said, I have to admit that this is the first novel that has legitimately made me feel squeamish while reading.

Once again, Brite proves why he is my favorite author through the use of his prose. His descriptions of both London and New Orleans are rich and decadent, an amazing feat considering the focus is on seedy areas in the cities like bars, a prison, and a really creepy mansion. Despite the luxuriousness of it at moments, the prose flows very well and doesn't slow you down while reading. If anything, the reader might choose to slow down in order to fully savor a description of Vietnamese food or indulge in a character's appreciation of a cold glass of beer.

As seems to be standard fare for Brite, the novel alternates between four perspectives, each following a different character. What's unique in this book is that we get a nested narrator, a first person narrative within a group of other narratives. In this particular novel, our nested narrator is a British serial killer named Andrew Compton (based on real life serial killer, Dennis Nilsen).

The characters and relationships between them are well done. Though I didn't find him as charismatic as Andrew, Jay (based on American serial killer, Jeffrey Dahmer) was interesting to look at since his narrative is in the third person and provides another perspective on a serial killer. Andrew, whose narrative is the only first person one, allows you to look into the mind of a killer, and together with Jay, gives a fuller scope on the mechanics of a murderous mind. I wasn't a huge fan of Tran, but I liked the flashbacks we got of his relationship and eventual breakup with Luke, who I really did like and found to be the most sympathetic character of the four. I also have to give a special little shout-out to a minor character named Soren. I thought he was positively adorable and really wished he could've had a bigger role in the book.

The interesting thing about this book is that our narrator is more of a traditional antagonist, being a murderer. Despite his tendency towards gore and mayhem, Andrew is actually characterized as very eloquent and remarkably intelligent. Much like Hannibal Lecter from Silence of the Lambs, Andrew is not only charismatic and smart but also sophisticated and rather cultured, and you can't help but follow along on his adventure. Even though I found myself squeezing my eyes shut at moments when it got really gruesome, I kept on reading because I was curious as to what he would do later on in the novel.

Honestly, this novel felt too short. Now, I know a lot of you are probably wondering why I would want more gore and mayhem when there is more than enough in the book as is. However, in order to fully enjoy it, you have to put aside all of the torture and murder and look at it more as a case study on serial killers. Looking at it in that vein, you could see how the story could be expanded. Even though we get it in brief flashbacks thrown in throughout the novel, I thought we could see more on how Andrew and Jay got started as murderers, in particular Andrew since he was actually arrested and put in jail.

Going off of that, the novel ended too abruptly for me. What happens to Andrew isn’t entirely clear, and I wanted to see how Luke is affected by the aftermath of the climax. And, of course, I wanted more Soren. As is, we get the unclear ending and an incredibly brief epilogue. The epilogue didn't make much sense to me and felt more like the beginning of another chapter. The whole book could've been expanded in my mind, not only giving us a richer background on Andrew and Jay, but also a more satisfying (or at least clearer) ending.

I’ve probably already stressed this a lot, but this book isn’t for sensitive readers, just based on the premise. I can admit that there were moments when I had to take a break before going on because the scenes would get so gory. But if you’re willing to overlook all the blood and guts, this is a genuinely fascinating look at and into the mind of serial killers.

Additional Information

  • N/A

Similar Books
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  • Strong language
  • Murder
  • Gore
  • Sex
  • Necrophilia
  • Cannibalism
  • Drug use
  • Graphic depictions of torture

2 comments on "Review: Exquisite Corpse by Poppy Z. Brite"
  1. Oh, lord. If you're squeamish about this story and read horror/scary stuff, then I'm going to be sleeping with the lights on for days if I pick this up (which I probably won't because I'm a big chicken).

    1. How do I put this? I think what made me squeamish about this was how graphic the kills could get. Normally I breeze through horror books relatively easily, but because of the prose in this book, I actually had to slow down. It doesn't happen as often as you'd think, and I tried to focus more on the characters because they were more important either way. And cooler! There's a kid who's HIV positive and starts a pirate radio station! Seriously, we need to make #BringBackSorenCarruthers a trend on Twitter, I think. The kid was an absolute delight in this.

      Mind you, 'Criminal Minds' is one of my favorite shows, so I think that might've also helped with my tolerance of the murders in this book. It was genuinely interesting to see how serial killers work. Again, I got squeamish but I didn't have nightmares or anything, not even the first time I read this bad boy.


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