The Sunday Times called it an "excursion into terror". I wasn't in the least terrified. The most interesting part of the book is the character of the narrator's mother who is an obssessive compulsive religious; for whom religion is ritual and every ritual has to be performed correctly in every detail if there is to be any chance that God will perform a miracle and cure her mute, retarded son. In this she battles everyone including the gentle forgiving parish priest who is, in her eyes, no adequate replacement for the cruel disciplinarian he replaced. This is a novel in which religion is dissected: the narrow cruelties of small-minded ritualists versus forgiving generosity; the derelict customs of the sterile good versus the evil fecundity of magic.
The book is beautifully written. The descriptions are lovely and the evocation of the landscape masterful. The characters are depicted perfectly. But the plot is a textbook in hinting. Who are the sinister local men and what do they want? Why has a room in the house been sealed off and what is in it? Who is the very pregnant schoolgirl in the Daimler? Why is there a gun under the floorboards? And how did Father Wilfred die?
Some wonderful moments:
- "The emerging springtime, that, when it came, was hardly a spring at all ... more the soggy afterbirth of winter." (C 2)
- "I'd never seen a man be so unkind to his own body." (C 2)
- "Pity is the only thing a drunk has in abundance." (C 2)
- "The specious grin of a teacher who wishes to punish and befriend in equal measure and ends up doing neither."(C 3)
- "All along the beach ... the sea had left its offerings like a cat trying to curry favour with its owner."(C 8)
- "It was an albino with eyes that looked as if they had been marinated in blood." (C 10)
- "Hell was a place ruled by the logic of children." (C 12)
- "He was the type that, given a different time and place, would have joined the Hitler Youth like a shot or been on the front row at a public hanging." (C 14)
- "Death was a poor draughtsman and had rendered his likeness just a little off-centre, giving him the look of someone who was almost familiar but lacking the something that made him so." (C 23)
- "Praying's like tuning a radio ... You have to be on the right frequency, otherwise all God hears is static." (C 23)
A perfectly structured book with great characterisation and an evocative setting. A page-turner. November 2018; 360 pages