BUTTERFLY SKIN by Sergey Kuznetsov
Translated from Russian to English by Andrew Bromfield
Published on 26th September 2014
Available from The Book Depository
When the news of a serial killer, branded as the Moscow Psycho, starts to panic the city, Ksenia, the 23 year old senior news editor for online newspaper website Evening.ru, decides to create a special website with her friends and work colleagues dedicated to the killer in a bid to share information and for the public to connect with the police in order to help catch the killer. Though she sets up the killer hub as a pure way to gain more traffic to their news website and to gain a pay rise off her boss Pasha, Ksenia’s obsession leaves her exposed as well as her deepest, darkest sexual desires which holds similarities with the killer’s.
Translated from Russian by Andrew Bromfield, Sergey Kuznetsov’s BUTTERFLY SKIN is a tense, brutal tale of relationships, media, celebrity and sexual desire. The book focuses on 23 year old Ksenia, who, besides from being an ambitious news editor, is also into BDSM and is currently aching over the split between her and her dom, Sasha. When an opportunity arises at work to earn some extra money, Ksenia joins forces with her colleague Alexei, her best friend Olya and childhood friend, Marina, to create a website dedicated to the mysterious Moscow Psycho.
Within its 356 pages, the book is split into chapters, with each chapter written in either first person by different characters, including Ksenia, Olya, Alexei and even the Moscow Killer, to the usual third person style seen in many novels. This shift with each chapter gives a look into the worlds and minds of all the characters involved in the story. A big emphasis is put on the lives, experiences and relationships of the characters, with each of their sexual exploits put under the spotlight. What seems obvious is that most of the characters are having affairs of some sorts, whether they are single themselves and having flings with married people, or whether they are cheating on their partners. Their hopes and aspirations, both in business and in life, are also touched upon, particularly with Alexei and Olya. The ways in which Kuznetsov describes his characters and spends time with them means that we, as the reader, get to know the characters and care for them in some way, even with their flaws. This applies to all the characters except the Moscow Psycho. Despite the best efforts to explain his point of view and the reason behind the killings, I could never understand the Moscow Psycho and his warped view of the world, and for that I am grateful as I wouldn’t want to understand someone as sick in the head as the killer portrayed in the book.
Style wise, the author has a penchant for repeating lines or phrases within the same chapter or even paragraph. Whilst unusual, the repetition is effective in delivery to give certain dialogue extra emphasis or meaning, even if the repeated phrases can be a little annoying at times. The author certainly knows how to create different emotions and vibes from the dialogue and when necessary, Kuznetsov can easily create an intense state of panic or euphoria of pleasure.
A little niggle I had with the book is that many of the characters have more than one name. Whilst I can understand Ksenia being called a different name by her closest friend, Olya, it appeared strange that most of the other characters had other names too. Ksenia is also Ksyusha, Olya is also Olga, Marina is also Marinka and so on. After a while this can be a bit confusing, and sometimes I ended up thinking it was typos or even different characters, forgetting the intitial introduction that presented these alternate names.
BUTTERFLY SKIN is a harsh read, in every sense of the word, but an interesting one nonetheless. Despite its grisly contents, I feel the book is a great tale about relationships, in both a friendship, parent/sibling/offspring and sexual sense. The Moscow Psycho website brings these characters together but it also destroys them at the same time, changing their lives forever.
Due to the graphic written content of both the murders and sexual appetite, I wouldn’t recommend anyone under the age of 18 reading this. The detail in which the deaths are described will disturb any reader, myself included as I struggled to stomach some of the descriptions that lay within the pages. Unless you’re into BDSM, the kinky desires of Ksenia are also a bit painful to imagine though are nowhere near as savage as the killer’s.
A difficult read at times, this novel is purely for those who can stomach the horrors that lie within.