Released: July 2014
DBC Pierre, the Booker prize-winning author of Vernon God Little, takes a new direction in Breakfast with the Borgias, published by ‘intelligent horror’ imprint Hammer Books. Ariel Panek, a Bostonian computer scientist specialising in artificial intelligence, finds himself stranded at a remote guest house on the south coast of England when dense fog makes it impossible for his flight to reach its destination, Amsterdam. Cut off by the absence of internet and even mobile phone signal from his girlfriend, Zeva, and from the always-connected modern world in which he normally thrives, Ariel instead has to join the hotel’s other guests in a convoluted game of manipulation and deceit if he is to have any hope of escape.
This initial set-up has great potential, but unfortunately there is a lack of subtlety in Pierre’s execution that makes it difficult to relate to the characters (with the exception of Ariel and possibly Zeva) as real people. Margot Borders, a long-suffering matriarch, presides over a family of equally grotesque individuals, each of whom appears at times to be more a collection of quirks and eccentricities than a coherent personality. The lack of realism in the depiction of these characters would not be a problem were it not for continual suggestion that their existence opposes everything Ariel and his colleagues think they know about human nature – a suggestion that would be more poignant and thought-provoking if Margot and her clan were more recognisably human to begin with.
The horror twist, when it comes, is intriguing, yet at the same time incredibly frustrating, contradicting much of what has gone before and raising more questions than Pierre is able to answer in the few remaining pages. Still, fans of the genre may well enjoy attempting to solve the puzzle of what exactly is going on at this very peculiar guest house, even if the eventual resolution is not entirely satisfying.