Simon P. Clark
| Look – as politicians are all too regularly inclined to preface an equivocal and evasive answer – I really could not decide as I began reading this book whether it was a somewhat pretentious and presumptuous (for a debut author) enterprise, a heavy-handed homage to an admired author (the Skellig ambience is hardly disguised) or a remarkably deft and poised first novel.|
Those who read my reviews regularly will know that I am not a great lover of Prologues and Prefaces in works of fiction. I am fairly sure that some of my resistance to this book could have been avoided with the omission of the opening announcement “This is a story about storytelling.” We really do not need to be told that. Nor do we need to be reminded that “Stories have always existed.” I challenge anyone to read the paragraph that begins with that sentence, in the middle of page 1 of this book, without feeling a sense of concern for the story that follows. I hope that it doesn’t cause too many to put the book down in a bookshop and move on to something else.
The small-format hardback has been beautifully and enticingly made (cover design by Jessie Price, cover and inside illustrations by Ellie Denwood) and comes with the following strapline by David Almond: “Distinctive, strange, poetic… a truly interesting new voice.” [On reflection, I read accuracy there – the book is all of those things – but also a hint of reservation implicit in the word ‘interesting’.]
Oli has had to move out of London to stay with aunt and uncle in the countryside. It is there that he encounters and has a series of conversations with Eren, a sort of monster in the attic.
Clark’s writing is exquisite. Economical and poetic. Em and other local characters are very well drawn. The mounting mystery of why Oli’s father cannot join them from London is skillfully ratcheted up with information about it only being given in the later stages of the book.
Eren is suitably foreboding and mesmerising and Oli convincingly under the creature’s spell. I finished the book still wishing the Preface had been omitted, still wishing the book had been a little less dreamlike and amorphous, more rooted in a fully-awake reality that the author is clearly skillful enough to evoke.
But let’s be done with reservations – Simon P. Clark has a distinctive new voice and a lithe economy of expression that is to be welcomed and celebrated, just as Corsair, an imprint of Constable & Robinson, is to be congratulated for publishing such a leftfield book.
The British-born author now lives in America. The book will have its US publication in 2015, at the same time as the paperback is released in the UK.