Tarantula, by Thierry Jonquet. It’s always odd reading a book after seeing an adaptation of it. Thankfully, I remembered little enough of Pedro Almodóvar’s The Skin I Live In to fully enjoy the twists and shocking reveals in Thierry Jonquet’s novella Tarantula (Mygale). The ‘book versus film’ debate is one which has been long argued and never concluded, but in my opinion Tarantula beats its adaptation hands down (apologies if you enjoyed the film). Not only that, but the story is different enough to work even if you do love the movie, with only the main reveal and minor details remaining the same.
To describe this book as a thriller would be an understatement. It’s hard to talk about any specifics without giving away the horrific twist and finale of the story, but Tarantula is essentially the story of three characters and the shocking way in which the human desire for revenge causes their lives to intersect. The core story follows Richard, a renowned plastic surgeon, who is keeping a woman, Eve, locked up in his mansion for unknown reasons while routinely subjecting her to extreme sexual and physical abuse and degradation. We also meet Alex, a criminal who decides to have his face surgically altered after shooting a police officer and Vincent, an art student who has been kidnapped by a mysterious figure he names ‘Mygale’. When Alex decides to abduct Eve in a bid to blackmail Richard into performing his desired surgery, the three stories begin to come together in increasingly appalling and horrifying ways.
The final reveal is so shocking it will stay with you long after you’ve finished the book. Whilst some may be able to guess the true reality of the story before it is explicitly stated, following the way in which each twist becomes clear to both us and certain characters is enough to maintain the suspense even if you think you know what’s coming. The psychological and physical effect of what comes to light is highly effective as Jonquet doesn’t rely on cheap thrills or stereotypical scares. Instead Tarantula shows the true horror of humanity and what people are able to do to each other, and the lengths some people will resort to in order to achieve revenge. It isn’t an easy read, but it’s worth the perseverance and the novella’s short length makes the story all the more effective.
Tarantula is one of the most effective horror stories I’ve read and the translation by Donald Nicholson-Smith doesn’t detract from the simplicity and effectiveness of the original text. It’s brilliant to see a novella survive translation so intact and is testament to Jonquet’s skilled writing that Tarantula remains one of the most affecting books I’ve had the pleasure (or displeasure) to read.