The novel Boy Parts by Eliza Clark is my most recent fixation. Ever since delving into the disturbing book genre, I have been looking for something that will be horrific but not cheesy. Boy Parts is this and so much more, offering the reader a psychological thriller with a surprising twist ending.
Clark starts off the novel by introducing the reader to Irina, a messy young woman in her early twenties. She is a successful photographer, spending most of her free time scoping out men to be her models for her explicit and erotic photography. When she’s not seeking potential models, she’s out drinking, doing drugs, having sex with strangers, and partying, especially with her best friend Flo. Flo was an old fling of hers, but is now Irina’s obsessed best friend, often writing about her on her blog. Later on, Irina gets invited to participate in an art gallery that she hopes will revive her career. She creates new erotic pieces using the men she finds to model her photos. However, as Irina’s story continues, it is gradually revealed that Irina is a much darker and dangerous person than previously thought.
When looking for models, Irina is not looking for anyone with a particular look; many of her models are average looking men. There are themes of sexuality and gender roles. These themes are demonstrated through Irina’s photography practice. Her photos are erotic and explicit in nature, often featuring average looking men as the subjects. In addition, Irina herself is a sadist, and is shown to derive great pleasure from consensually torturing her subjects. Her photography also creates a dominant and submissive relationship between the photographer and the subject. In this case, Irina takes on the role of dominance and toys with her submissive subject through sexual sadism. This dynamic created by Clark diverts the readers’ expectations of typical gender roles by giving Irina the power, especially in sexual encounters.
Though Irina is our protagonist, she is highly unlikeable. At best she is obnoxious and at worst she is self destructive and outright dangerous; even so, the reader is left mesmerized by just how chaotic she is. Despite its dark tone, Boy Parts can be oddly comedic at times as well, thanks in part to the unpleasant Irina. However, near the halfway mark, we start to realize that not all is alright with Irina; she might not be as simple as we thought. Her psyche starts to crack. It is slowly relieved that not only is she an unbearable human being, but she is violent as well, having killed a young boy before. This is first revealed to us through small glimpses into her memory. These are very vague at first, giving the impression that she is as confused by them as we are. It is as if it is a part of herself she is hiding from.
Clark skillfully crafts a narrative that shows the reader something is off without outright saying it. The tone becomes much darker as the reader reaches the ending. Irina states off hand remarks such as having used trash bags before to dispose of a body. Instead of continuing this train of thought, Irina quickly moves on to the next. This clever technique has the reader doubting if they truly know or even trust Irina, even with less than 5 chapters left to the conclusion. Clark had unexpectedly been building towards having Irina be a murderer. Though she doesn’t target individuals, she is not above killing someone if they cross a line with her.
Overall, this novel may not be for everyone. It is graphic, gritty, and dark. It also has its fair share of trigger warning such as eating disorders, self harm, drug use, alcoholism, and violence. However, if you are a reader looking for your next disturbing novel, Boy Parts is a worthy option.