BOOK CLUB: The Spiral

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The Spiral by Iain Ryan is set around the University of Queensland, Fortitude Valley and the surrounding area. It opens with Erma, who is called for a disciplinary meeting. A lot of names are thrown around but the reader is left in the dark as to what it is all about.

Erma is sure her friend and colleague Jenny is behind the complaint. Out of the blue Jenny shoots Erma and then fatally shoots herself leaving Erma with a massive, “why”.

Erma’s life then spirals into dark dreams and relentlessly pursuing Jenny’s last movements.

Iain Ryan explores the concept of the choose your own adventure and gameplay novels as Erma is doing research to write a book on the history of these books.  I remember my sons reading these although they weren’t quite as complex as the books referred to here.

You, the reader, were in charge of the plot. Your decisions had consequences and you never knew ahead what they might be. Ryan draws parallels between these books and Erma’s life decisions, actions and consequences.

The plot is complex, running multiple plot lines, and like a jigsaw puzzle, you have to piece together snippets of information each seemingly inconsequential and unrelated until you put them together and reveal the final picture.

When I started the book I was totally confused and I wasn’t sure I was going to enjoy it. Well, my fears were soon allayed! The story was tense and gripping and I read the book in one day, on the edge of my seat through the second half as Ryan smashes out the twists one after the other.

In this genre-mixing novel, a fantasy thread is introduced with Sero the Barbarian searching to regain his lost memory. This is told through Erma’s nightmares and often linked to Erma’s actual life events and hidden fears.

Erma’s character was hard to connect with. Her penchant for violence brought about by teenage trauma and exacerbated by a case of PSTD seemed more akin to a gangland member than a University supervisor. However, even though she wasn’t totally likeable I still felt I wanted her to come through each situation and hopefully heal herself mentally.

I love noir fiction and I love fantasy so I enjoyed both genres within the book. I think the mixing of genres could have been a risky move but worked well for this reader.

The Spiral will appeal to readers who like dark and gritty Noir Fiction.

ISBN: 9781760686178 / Publisher: Echo Publishing

A selection of our Beauty and Lace club members are reading The Spiral by Iain Ryan. You can read their reviews in the comments section below, or add your own.

10 thoughts on “BOOK CLUB: The Spiral

  1. The Spiral by Australian author Iain Ryan is a daring, high-flying fantasy thriller.
    Dr Erma Bridges was a full-time academic at the Centre for Creative Writing and Cultural Understanding at Queensland University; she was writing a book about the history of young adventure fiction in the 80’s until she was suspended, awaiting a disciplinary hearing due to a personal matter. Meanwhile her research assistant Jenny Wasserman who was transcribing interviews has gone missing with all the material and Emma assumes it was Jenny who made the complaint against her.

    Erma tracks down Jenny who shoots her twice and then turns the gun on herself. Erma’s life turns to disarray as she tries to comprehend why Jenny would do this, wanting answers Erma embarks on finding the truth.

    Another character in the novel is Kanika, Erma’s work colleague who researches women that have gone missing from campus over the years, never to be seen or heard of again. Her story overlaps with Erma’s that gives another direction in the suspense and mystery to the story.

    I find that if you don’t like fantasy novels you will need to truly invest yourself to read it to the end as it was a struggle and I found I could only read a small amount at a time. Definitely not a book I would gush about and encourage others to read unless they are willing to commit to the fantasy / thriller aspect of the novel.

    Thank you to Beauty & Lace and Allen & Unwin AU for the chance to read and review.

  2. Thank you, Rach and Beauty and Lace, for the opportunity to broaden my horizons by reading and reviewing ‘The Spiral’ which explores the darker side of fantasy, a genre I hadn’t previously dabbled in. Iain takes you on an adventure where you have a choice of game plays, all with slightly different outcomes. I was not familiar with this style of novel at all, apparently, they surfaced around the late seventies’ early eighties, and the concept was entirely foreign to me. On the outset, I mistakenly read the novel from beginning to end, totally missing the significance of the choices at the end of each chapter, giving you options with a different chapter reference depending on your preference. Having read the book in this normal fashion, I did get it and I was able to follow the story, but on my second reading and taking the various options put to me, I found it interesting to choose and the nuance and fork in the road scenario and how the outcome differed dependent on the path you chose.

    I do take my hat off to Iain; this would have been an extremely complex book to write and it highlights the skill and intense imagination of the author. I can’t say I was an Erma fan; she didn’t come across as a very likeable character, whilst I felt for Erma and the downward spiral, she found herself in, I wasn’t endeared to her in any way. Erma was a particularly tough cookie, extremely fit and in most circumstances able to take of herself, although not entirely ethical and know to cross boundaries when it came to student relationships. My imagination ran wild with Archibald Moder’s appearance and I pictured him as a Dr Evil look alike, he and his son Harlan were both just that, Evil with a capital ‘E.’ The level and ferocity of the violence in parts of the book, left me feeling squeamish, and wanting to quickly skip over those parts. I did feel a sense of relief, when I’d finished the book, for the second time, having said that, I am keen to read Iain’s back catalogue, whilst his previous books are also in the same genre, the story line may be a bit more straight forward and easier for the reader to follow, not necessitating a second read through.

  3. I finished ‘The Spiral’ by Iain Ryan and I am still processing the whole line of events! It has a great story to follow but Iain uses some of the chapters that become a ‘choose your own ending’ style of writing that was a little frustrating and hard to read until you start getting to the end and it finally makes sense. The story goes from 1 – 100 following Erma Bridge’s dysfunctional life and the high speed that she lives at. She suffered a trauma and then tried to block it out and all is revealed to give the reader the truth of what happened. It is definitely a page turner right to the end. I like a book that explains all at the end and this one does. Read it and see for yourself.

  4. Wow! What a ride!

    I loved the story, and found myself vividly imagining the characters. I was very engrossed in the book, and at times couldn’t put it down. I love stories around University environments, and this one didn’t disappoint.

    At time the story was hard to follow, and I’m not usually a fantasy reader, but it was gripping and painted an exciting picture of academia.

  5. Thankyou to Beauty and Lace and Echo Publishing for the opportunity to read The Spiral by Iain Rayan.

    Fantasy thrillers are not usually the type of books I would read, however, in this story you spiral along with Dr Erma Bridges, not sure where you are going or what will happen next. There is no point in trying to predict the ending as there is surprise after surprise.

    Erma is facing a disciplinary hearing at the University. She hasn’t always made good choices! She suspects her assistant Jenny is behind the complaints.
    Erma has been commissioned to write a book about the history of young adult fiction. It is right up her ally as she has always been fascinated by “choose your own adventure “ stories, written by a reclusive author she has sent her assistant to interview.

    Her research assistant Jenny seems to have disappeared with the research. However, she does turn up in a very unexpected way.

    Erma is following Jenny’s last movements, searching for her missing interviews.
    Sero , a fictional barbarian takes over Ermas dreams and her life begins to spiral .

    At the same time a colleague , Kanika is researching missing women from Qld Universities and her research overlaps Erma’s search for her missing work, adding another dimension to the story.

    I am glad to have read the book and found it interesting in the way it was written. This book is probably not for everyone, but if you like dark, fantasy thrillers and choose your own adventure stories, this one is for you.

  6. I don’t usually read fantasy but the blurb had me intrigued! I am so happy I gave this a chance as I could not put it down!

    Thank you to Beauty & Lace and Echo Publishing for the oppurtunity to read and review The Spiral.

  7. Iain Ryan’s The Spiral certainly took me out of my comfort zone. Not one of my usual genres, I found the premise and construct intriguing and thought provoking. I also enjoyed the Brisbane setting covering many old haunts of mine. However, I never really warmed to any of the characters and therefore found I was not overly invested in the story.

    An innovative and clever read from a local Aussie author, this will appeal to lovers of fantasy and choose you own adventure. Thanks to Beauty and Lace for the opportunity to read and review The Spiral.

  8. The Spiral by Iain Ryan is a fantasy thriller that I would not usually choose to read but I was keen to try a different genre to what I would normally read. This story did really spiral along not knowing what would happen in the life of Erma Bridges with the next page turn. It was the sort of book that I could not predict at all and did at first find challenging to get into reading.

    The Spiral is set around the University of Queensland, and surrounding areas. The story starts off with Erma who is called in for a disciplinary meeting regarding a complaint. Not knowing what this is about Erma is sure that her colleague Jenny is the complainant.

    Erma has been commissioned to write a book about the history of young adult fiction. Her assistant has disappeared together with the research. Jenny does turn up in a very different way. Then Erma follows up on the last movements of Jenny so she can search for the missing research.
    From here on Erma’s life spirals into dark places to the end of the story.

    This book may not be for everyone and I am still not sure if it was for me.

  9. I must admit The Spiral isnt usually a book I would choose to read but I was pleasantly surprised. I had a bit of trouble getting into it but once I did it left me wanting more at every page!

    Thank you for this opportunity

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