Guardian Review

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Guardian Review

Mal Peet reviews A Trick of the Dark by BR Collins


A Trick of the Dark is billed as a "supernatural thriller'. But Collins is a brave and ambitious writer, and this book is a rarer thing: a metaphysical thriller. It's about nothing less than the dualism that drives most religious and philosophical thinking. One of the two texts that underpin it is John Donne's sonnet "Death", in which death is personified, externalised, and rendered vincible. The other is Peter Pan. (It's a brilliantly incongruous coupling, and I wish I'd thought of it.) But Collins denies the reader both the solace of Donne's Christian bravado and the ironic jollity of Barrie's play. This is a very dark book, right up to, and including, its final pages. If, like me, you are claustrophobic, you will find some of the novel's more brilliant passages uneasy reading.

Making what are, essentially, spiritual events concrete and dramatic without resorting to allegory or mystical symbolism is, of course, fiendishly difficult. Collins succeeds, narrowly. My disbelief remained suspended, but only by its fingertips. It seems to me that there are two problems with the book. One is that we spend an awful lot of time inside the heads of the two young protagonists, and there is the danger that we become bloated on a surfeit of agonising. The other has to do with pitch. The novel begins with a situation so acrimonious, so terminally awful, that the teenagers' escape into the horror of the divided self doesn't seem much worse.

... [Collins will] be a truly great writer one of these days. This is a faltering yet confident step along the way. MAL PEET

1 Comment

I'm not sure I agree with Peet about what makes for effective, even great, writing about spiritual matters. It seems to me that it's exactly the ambiguity inherent in symbolism which reflects - or at least can reflect, if well done - the essential mystery. 'Concrete and dramatic' are, by themselves, insufficient.

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This page contains a single entry by achuka published on October 24, 2009 8:48 AM.

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