BOOK REVIEW

Recovering alcoholic gets a taste of his own medicine

A SADIST RECONSIDERS his demeanor toward people.

Published in the Netherlands in 2006, Diary of an Oxygen Thief first catches a reader’s attention because it has no author—in an act staying with the character of the book, the cover of the novel is printed with a simple “Anonymous.” The novel was originally a self-published experiment from the writer, but was acquired by publishing house Simon & Schuster after selling 100,000 copies. Diary of an Oxygen Thief quickly gathered a cult fanbase; New York Magazine described the book as “a surprising dark-horse Williamsburg bestseller.” Throughout the novel’s rise to commercial success, it was championed for its direct voice and honest observation of dark themes.

The book opens with an unnamed narrator explaining his circumstances; he is a recovering alcoholic who recently started going to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, and as such he needs to come to terms with his regrets. From here, the narrator explains that in his past, he had derived sadistic pleasure from emotionally abusing women that were attracted to him for his looks and money. He explains his process quite simply: he would draw women in, charm them into falling in love with him, and then he would completely cease any communication so that he could watch them become desperate for his affection.

However, the man meets his match with a woman who has begun to practice something similar on him. In many ways, Diary of an Oxygen Thief is about a man experiencing empathy for the people he has hurt. As the tables turn, the narrator finds himself reeling with a deep-seated sense of self-hatred, and the story slowly begins to delve into a man’s self-reflection and acceptance of remorse. He begins to understand the evil of what he has done, and expresses remorse for the women that he has hurt.

Through publishing the book anonymously, the author creates an entire air of secrecy around the novel; while he has issued a statement saying that the events in the novel are purely fictional, it’s almost painfully easy to imagine that they aren’t. The piece is written as a first-person narrative, and it’s for that reason that Diary of an Oxygen Thief manages to become almost aggressively intimate. Oftentimes, the author forces the reader into the gory details of emotional abuse that the reader might not want to know about—in effect, the narrator of the piece scares a reader into introspection.

The novel stands out as something more than shock value—it’s a presentation of ideas and how they’re developed within the human mind. It’s an unrestricted exploration into the mind of someone who refuses to consider the emotions of other people, and the way that he comes to terms with his own inner demons. The story is believable in a way that makes the reader almost ashamed to be human—a person develops a complete understanding of how emotional abuse happens. Diary of an Oxygen Thief is a crass, rude, and beautifully constructed description of the side of human nature that most people would rather forget.